In a couple of recent Bristol Wine Blogs I’ve mentioned ‘decanting’ a wine. It’s a subject that causes considerable debate in the wine world. So, what do I mean by decanting and when and why might I think about doing it?
Decanting, simply, is pouring wine out of the bottle it’s sold in into a decanter (or, indeed, any jug large enough to hold the contents). There are 2 main reasons why you might want to do this: to separate the liquid from any sediment that might be in the bottle or to aerate the wine.
Many wines (and Vintage Ports) are bottled without being filtered (or, at least, with very minimal filtration). This means that some of the solid matter that results from the fermentation process ends up in the bottle. This sediment is harmless but you really wouldn’t want to drink it as it’s often quite bitter or astringent. So, if you expect that there might be sediment in the bottle, it’s best to stand it upright for a few hours or, even, overnight (assuming it’s been stored on its side) to allow the sediment to fall to the bottom. Then, when you uncork it, pour the wine very slowly into your jug or decanter watching the neck of the bottle to see when the first of the sediment starts to appear. At that point, stop pouring. You’ll have a little wine left in the bottle, but the liquid in the decanter will be clear and can be poured into your glasses without worrying.
The other reason for decanting is rather more controversial: to aerate the wine, otherwise known as ‘letting the wine breathe’. Some, including renowned experts, are firmly opposed to decanting for this purpose, saying that the wine’s aromas are lost in this way. Others, equally expert, disagree, suggesting that wines, especially robust or tannic wines, can be softened and made more harmonious by decanting. I’m generally in the latter camp but, as with so much in wine, there are no absolute right and wrong answers.
My advice is to experiment; open the bottle and taste. If you’re happy as it is, go on and pour straight away – but have a decanter handy, just in case.