wine decanter

Wine 101 – Decanting

To Decant or Not To Decant.  Decanting is a tricky topic in the wine world.  There are a ton of gadgets and different decanter styles in the market that can make it very confusing for most wine drinkers.  I’ll try and shed some light on the subject and make it a little easier.

There are two basic reasons to decant a wine:

  • Introduce oxygen to the wine (aerate)
  • To separate the wine from any sediment that may have formed from an older vintage

Air can be a wine’s friend for a short period of time before it turns on it and eventually destroys the wine.  When you open the bottle it will take a big gulp of air and begin to transform.  If you pour that wine into a glass and take a drink you will get the basic understanding of what the wine will taste like.  As the wine sits in the glass it will continue to develop and mature until it has been exposed to air for too long and then eventually become undrinkable.  It’s the sitting and developing that that makes the wine expose the true essence of what the winemaker wanted to express.  This is where decanting a wine can help that process with younger wines.  By decanting the wine and letting it sit for 30 min to a couple of hours you can allow the wine to mix with the surrounding air and begin its transformation.  You should tilt the decanter to a 45 degree angle and slowly pour the wine so that it slides along the neck of the decanter.  Once the bottle is empty, I like to swirl the wine around in the decanter a few times before I set it down.  If you have time and want to experiment I suggest taking a sip every 30 minutes to see if you notice the changes in the wine.

As a wine grows older sediment will begin to develop in the bottle, this is a natural occurrence when the color pigments and tannins bond together and form a flakey substance.  While this is not harmful it can be bitter and gritty or just overall unpleasant and distracting.  When decanting for this reason you will need to be more careful when pouring the wine.  You will still want to pour into the decanter at a 45 degree angle but will want a good view of the bottle with ample lighting where you can see when to stop pouring so the sediment does not come out.  You will be leaving a little bit of wine in the bottle at the end because of the sediment but it’s a lot better than having purple flakes stuck in your teeth.  I suggest using a filter or cheesecloth for the top of the decanter to catch any sediment that might accidently pour out.

There are lots of neat gadgets, like the Vinturi, that will aerate wines.  These can be fairly inexpensive and easy to use.  I still prefer to use a decanter since I want the wine to slowly change over the course of a few hours and notice those subtle differences.  The good news is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money on a fancy decanter that is shaped like a swan.  You can use a water carafe or any other vessel to pour your wine into.  I highly suggest whatever you use to keep it simple to make cleaning up that much easier.