Decanting Wine – No, It’s Neither Old Fashioned, Nor An Affectation

The Why

Decanting wine may seem like old hat, but actually quite a few wines – even white wines, and more especially high end whites – can still benefit from spending some time out of the bottle ahead of being served.

Decanting can work to soften highly tannic and full-bodied wines and, of course, to remove any sediment. Older, usually red, wines – and certainly older vintage Port – can throw a sediment after a number of years in the bottle and decanting removes this (it’s both unsightly and not that pleasant to taste, although quite harmless).

It’s true that most wines bought today are unlikely to contain sediment because of modern fining and filtration processes, with wines being clarified before being bottled.

Yet very few wines are the worse for being decanted and can actually benefit from being exposed to the air to help counter an initial lack of nose or palate. A combination of the action of decanting itself, plus the larger surface area in contact with the air in a decanter, acts to change the wine, tempering any youthful bite, as well as working to develop a number of more complex aromas that would normally only appear after years in the bottle.

So decanting a wine is not just for show – even though this can add to the promise of a wine and the aura of quality.

And to those who want to communicate the name of the wine, the producer and the vintage – and your wine acumen – then by all means show your guests the bottle it came from.

The Wherefore

If you’re decanting a wine just to gain the benefits that aerating it can bring, then simply pour the wine into any suitable vessel (even a jug will do). It’s even quite okay to pour the contents back into the bottle after 10 or 15 minutes, but, whether you’ll be pouring the wine from the bottle or a nice decanter, don’t do this more than half an hour before serving as it may affect the taste adversely (as it happens, this can also apply to fine old red clarets and burgundies).

If, however, it’s to remove any sediment, then you need to be sure any  sediment present has settled, so the bottle needs not to have been shaken about for at least a day or two. When it comes to pulling the cork (older, finer wines will tend to have a cork rather than a metal ‘screw cap’ closure), this  also needs to be done without shaking the bottle. Then gently bring the neck of the bottle to the top of the decanter (don’t use a jug in this case – a nice carafe or decanter adds to the moment) and then slowly invert the bottle and start gently pouring. You need a light source to shine through the neck of the bottle (red wines and Port usually come in dark glass) so you can see the clarity of the wine you’re pouring as it passes along the neck of the bottle. The moment you see the first flecks of sediment (like an arrowhead) then stop pouring.

If you’ve handled the bottle correctly, then this will be when the bottle is almost empty, so you’ll ‘lose’ very little of the precious contents. Whilst unpleasant to find in a glass, what’s left in the bottle can be poured out and used to go to making a superior gravy!


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