Quite often, when I have a hearty bottle of red wine I’ll get my decanter out of the cupboard. Its not to look all snobbish about wine but it is done to make the wine taste better. Let me explain:
Decanting is the process where wine is poured from the bottle into another vessel. This is particularly done for two reasons: Either to remove sediment that might be found in the bottle which was stored for a long period of time and / or to aerate the wine (allowing it to breathe). Another reason is out of pure aesthetics and presentation.
If you have a particularly aged bottle of red wine you might find it necessary to decant the wine first. Over a long period of time, tartrate crystals can form in the bottle with other sediment. It is not harmful but it is not aesthetic and since a large part of wine is presentation also nobody likes the feel of gritty crystals in you mouth. Decanting ensures that there are no crystals and other murky residue found in your glass.
Read my piece about sediments on wine here.
Most modern wines go through a fining and stabilisation process, so these days wines with high amount of sediment are quite rare.
Wine “breathes” in a decanter, since the larger surface area exposes the wine to more air. Many people think that simply opening the bottle is enough to allow the wine to breath, but the neck of the bottle is too narrow and the surface area is too small. Decanting allow the wine’s aromas to forth in the wine, while acids and alcohol become more balanced. Giving you a wine which has a smoother, rounder mouth feel.
This is particularly useful if your wine is very young.
This procedure also definitely benefits heavier wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo, but more elegant wines like most white wines and Pinot Noir will oxidise too fast and lose their fruit characteristics.
- Decant the wine 20 – 40 min before serving, since decanting the wine too long before drinking might cause the fruit characteristics to wilt and decanting for too a short time will have no effect at all.
- If the wine that you are decanting has a high amount of sediment, decant the wine over a light source ,so that you can clearly see when you have poured off the clean wine and to keep the sediment in the bottle.
- Decant medium to heavy bodied wines, light bodied wines will lose their aromas too quickly.
Today decanters come in all shapes, sizes and designs. Tips on buying a decanter would be to buy one that will alow the wine to have a large surface area available to oxygen. Choose one with a sturdy design which is easy to clean. Sometimes the most basic decanter designs are the best.