Tag Archives: bottle

Decanting Wine

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.

bottle sediment

sediment – leave it in the bottle, not the glass

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.

‘Double’ decanting

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.

Conclusion

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.

Bottle variation

Bottles of the same wine may taste very different, and variations increase as a wine gets older. In fact one bottle of a mature wine may be wonderful, and the next over-the-hill. Why?

different bottle sizes

different bottle sizes

The blend
Virtually all wine is a blend from different barrels or vats. If the mixing vat is not big enough to take all the wine, then one batch may well differ from the next. So, there may be a difference before the wine is even bottled.

Bottling
A particular wine may be bottled in batches rather than all at the same time. The fill levels, added sulphur dioxide, entrained oxygen, and gas injected above the wine may all vary at each bottling session.

The closure
Historically this was always natural cork. It is a fine closure, but every cork is different and will allow differing amounts of air to diffuse through. This causes bottles to mature at different rates. One big advantage of screwcaps is that each closure is the same.

Transport and storage
This is a major issue, and can completely destroy a wine.

  • Temperature – is covered in more detail by another post. If the temperature gets too high, the wine will be damaged, perhaps fatally. Cases of wine stored at different temperatures will mature at different rates.
  • ‘Lightstrike’ – damage by over-exposure to UV light.

Bottle size
The larger the bottle, the more slowly and gracefully a wine matures. This may just be because the gap between the cork and the wine is the same for a half bottle, a bottle or a magnum. Any air in that gap will be spread more thinly in a magnum than a half bottle, meaning that it will be oxidised more slowly.

Age of the wine
The older a wine, the more time there is for all these influences to take effect, and the higher the chance of one bottle being very different to the next.