To decant or not to decant, that is the question. Most wines are drunk within days of being bought, and some of these may benefit from decanting, but it is some older ones which really need it.
What is decanting?
Decanting involves pouring wine from the bottle into another container. Any sediment should remain in the bottle. You might choose to decant into an attractive decanter for serving.
Decant wine into a jug, rather than a decanter. Use water to swill out the original bottle and remove any remaining sediment, and then return the wine to that bottle. Your guests get a pristine wine from the original bottle.
The process of decanting
Books usually tell you to decant over a lighted candle, so that it illuminates the bottle neck and shoulder. This allows you to stop pouring when the sediment reaches the neck. In fact, doing it over a bright surface works perfectly well.
Decanting wines with sediment
In my opinion, the one time when decanting is essential, is when a bottle has plenty of sediment. That is mature red wines. Sediment in a glass of wine is unattractive, but more importantly the sediment mops up dissolved oxygen, which makes the wine taste dull, and makes the aroma less attractive. Vintage port is the classic example.
Other reasons for decanting wines
There is considerable debate over this subject, for example the British being more likely to decant a wine than the French. So, other reasons why you might decant a wine:-
- To aerate a young red wine. Some grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon can be rather tannic and astringent when young. Decanting the wine introduces air, which softens the tannins.
- Wines bottled under screwcap can sometimes have a sulphurous smell when first opened. Decanting the wine helps this to dissipate rapidly.
- Disguising the wine. Pouring an average wine into an attractive decanter helps to fool your guests into thinking it is better than it is.
Wines not to decant
Old and delicate wines may die in the process of decanting, leaving little for you to taste or smell. Pour a little out, and if there is a hint of brown to the colour, then don’t decant it even if there is plenty of sediment.
There are no precise rules about whether or not to decant a wine. Often, opening a young wine early, and pouring some out to increase the surface area of the wine in contact with the air, does the job perfectly well. Some just like the theatre of it all.