First let’s talk about Decanting – to decant your wine or not? Decanting is transferring (decanting) the contents of a wine bottle into another receptacle (the decanter) before serving. It may sound silly (how can pouring wine from one vessel into another make it taste better?), but it works – careful decanting can improve most any wine.
Why decant? Obviously, it’s not the mere act of shifting liquid from one container to another that accounts for the magic of decanting. Rather, when you decant a bottle of wine, two things happen. First, slow and careful decanting allows wine (particularly older wine) to separate from its sediment, which, if left mixed in with the wine, will impart a very noticeable bitter, astringent flavor.
Second, when you pour wine into a decanter, the resulting agitation causes the wine to mix with oxygen, enabling it to develop and come to life at an accelerated pace (this is particularly important for younger wine).
What I find particularly fascinating is that there’s a specific way to decant. Decanting a young wine (one with no sediment) is easy: Just pour it into the decanter. Let it sit for twenty minutes or so before you serve it, and you’ll likely notice a dramatic increase in subtlety and complexity.
If you have the luxury of time, continue tasting the wine over a period of hours. It may keep evolving and improving. And don’t let anybody tell you that you should only decant certain types of wine (Bordeaux) and not others (Burgundy). I recommend decanting everything – even white wine, if you feel like it.
Decanting older wine (wine with sediment) requires a bit more finesse. For starters, the wine has had plenty of time to age on its own, so it doesn’t need any artificial boost. You may even ruin it by overexposing it to oxygen before serving. Thus, you should decant older wine immediately before serving, before it begins to change.
In addition, there’s the issue of how best to separate a wine from its sediment. More often than not, you’ll see recommendations or suggestions to stand the bottle upright for several days before opening, giving the wine a chance to drop its sediment to the bottom of the bottle. Just be sure when you pour the wine, you pour carefully so as to leave that sediment in the bottle.
If you happen to have a wine cradle, plus a candle or small flashlight, you can do it on the fly without having to leave it standing upright for a few days. Basically you want to make sure you keep the bottle at a 20-degree angle – just shy of being horizontal. Here, a visual aid is probably in order:
If you put a small flashlight under the neck (shining upwards), or even a candle, you can keep an eye on when the sediment starts to enter the neck from the bottle so you can stop and avoid getting the sediment into the wine you just poured in the decanter.
Here’s another visual aid for you:
Pretty nifty, no?
Now about that Decanter… The principles of choosing stemware also apply to decanters. Or you can do what I do, and pick out decanters that are cool conversation pieces, like this one:
I actually have this exact one, a gift from my wino brother:
Pick out a cool conversational piece decanter all you want, but just remember to pick out a crystal clear one, because a clear, crystal decanter allows you to see the wine at its best. Don’t go for the overly decorated or colored decanters, because they’ll obscure your wine – and while the decanter is a cool conversation piece, the real star is supposed to be the wine.
And never clean your decanter with detergent, because the shape of a decanter makes it very difficult to get the soapy residue out. Instead, use a mixture of crushed ice and coarse salt — they’ll remove any residual wine without leaving behind any aroma of their own.
Winemaking is so much fun – at least for me – and am tickled every time I give the wine as gifts to friends and family who love drinking it as much as I love making it. While we go through this alphabetical series on winemaking, if you have any burning questions, be sure to ask them in the comments below, and I’ll reply there – and maybe even highlight your specific question(s) in a future post!
Thanks for joining me in this fun adventure!