To Decant or Not?

I often mention in a blog about having decanted a wine. But, it wasn’t until a reader left a comment for me that I realised that none of the blogs currently on this site’s archive actually explains what I mean by decanting and when and how you might do it. So, thank you, ‘Miss Judy’, for the prompt and I hope this answers your question.
Basically, there are 2 reasons for decanting: one is visual, the other is about how the wine will taste. Let’s start with the visual. You’ve got a lovely decanter and want to show it off to friends when you invite them round to dinner, so you tip the wine from the bottle into the decanter and put that on the table instead. Or, more practically, if you think that your wine is likely to have some sediment in it, you might want to decant it so that you can pour it easily without worrying about ‘bits’ going into your glass – words like ‘unfined’ or ‘unfiltered’ on the label are hints that there could be sediment in the bottle.
The other reason for decanting is if you think the wine would benefit from some aeration to soften it a little. So, if you open a wine and find it’s very tannic and harsh, then it might be one for decanting. (Tannin is that drying sensation you feel on your gums and the sides of your mouth when you drink some red wines). Aeration is more likely to benefit younger, chunkier reds such as a Shiraz, Zinfandel or Châteauneuf du Pape but possibly not a Beaujolais or Chilean Pinot Noir. At this point, I should say that there are arguments between professionals about the merits or not of aerating wine – my advice is: try it; if it works for you, do it, if not, don’t.
So that, briefly, is the answer to ‘when’ and ‘why’ you might decant. Now let’s turn to ‘how’: If your wine has been lying down, any sediment will have gathered on one side of the bottle. Carefully take it from the rack and gently stand it upright, leaving it in this position for a few hours if you can. This will allow any sediment to settle in the bottom of the bottle. When you’re ready to open it, uncork the wine and, with a light behind the bottle (traditionally a candle, but a lamp is better), slowly pour the wine out watching the bottle for when the first signs of any sediment start appearing in the neck. At that point, stop pouring. The wine in your decanter will be clear and bright and the sediment is left behind in the bottle. Of course, if there’s no sediment, this whole process is a lot easier!
Perhaps the only other point to mention is how long in advance should you decant? If you’re decanting for aesthetic reasons, it really doesn’t matter but, for aeration, my guide would be: the bigger the wine, the earlier you open it, but, typically, an hour. And, beware if you have any very old, frail wines – they are unlikely to benefit from decanting and you could destroy them.
I hope I’ve covered everything but, if not, as ‘Miss Judy’ did, please leave a comment in the box below and I’ll try and reply.

Room Temperature?

We’re all familiar with the advice ‘drink white wine chilled, red wine at room temperature’, but what do we mean by ‘room temperature’?  I’ve noted before in this Blog that normal room temperature today (especially in winter) is likely to be rather higher than our pre-central heating ancestors would have been used to.  As a result, we’re probably serving our red wines quite a bit warmer than was intended when the advice first emerged.

But a brief heatwave in Bristol recently put an entirely new slant on the term; our living room reached close to 30°C (86°F) mid-afternoon and our outside terrace remained well into the 20s for much of the evening.  Not the ideal temperature for a red wine.

Ever since a trip to France’s Beaujolais region in the early 1990s, where we found restaurants always served the local wines chilled, we’ve given light-bodied reds, like Beaujolais, a half an hour in the fridge before drinking and find them more refreshing that way.  But, where we store our wines is quite cool and we usually serve anything heavier than a Beaujolais straight from the wine rack. But, during our heatwave, it was time for a re-think.  What else might benefit from chilling?

SyrahI picked Yves Cuilleron’s Syrah from France’s northern Rhône region (Grape and Grind, Bristol,  £13.25) – not as big and chunky as many Australian Shirazes, but by no means a light-bodied red.  A half an hour in an ice bucket worked beautifully, bringing out all the wine’s deep blackberry fruit and subtle spiciness without making the tannins harsh or too intrusive.  A real treat sitting out on our terrace and accompanying some delicious goat chops cooked in a tomatoey sauce (the tomatoes also grown on our terrace!) with fennel.

I’m not suggesting you chill a young claret or a robust Zinfandel – leave those for cooler weather – but for a nice medium-bodied red on a hot evening, room temperature is definitely not the way to go.