To Decant or Not?

Looking back on my blogs, I’ve realised just how often I’ve suggested that a wine should be decanted but I’ve never really explained why or how.  Time to put that oversight right.

Firstly, why?  There are 2 main reasons for decanting: number 1 is that some wines – mainly reds, but also Vintage ports – are bottled without being filtered.  As a result, they may have some dark sediment in the bottle which, although completely harmless, you wouldn’t want to pour into your glass.  So, you decant the wine and leave the sediment behind in the bottle, ensuring that every glass you pour is clear, bright wine.

The 2nd reason – and this is much more controversial, even among wine professionals – is to get air into the wine.  If you are opening a young red wine or one that may be quite tannic, decanting lets the wine absorb some oxygen which supporters say will soften the tannins and make the wine more approachable.  Opponents argue that, in decanting, you lose some of the aroma and flavour and the wine is lessened as a result.  There’s no absolute right or wrong answer; you’re the customer, you pay the money, you decide what’s right for you. 

Personally, I generally decant young, robust, tannic wines, but not usually lighter-bodied reds, such as Pinots Noir or Beaujolais. 

So, if you’ve decided to decant, how do you do it?

Assuming your wine has been laying on its side in a wine rack, take it out several hours before you want to drink it and stand it upright.  This will encourage the sediment to collect in the bottom of the bottle.  Then, when you’re ready to decant (generally an hour or so before you want to drink it if you’re decanting to aerate), remove the capsule and the cork and gently pour the wine into your decanter (or jug – anything large enough to hold the entire contents will do).  If you have a light source behind the bottle (traditionally a candle but, a lamp or even a torch will do), you will be able to watch the wine as it is poured out and see when the first signs of sediment reach the neck of the bottle, when you stop pouring.

You may also choose to wash out the bottle and leave it to dry before gently pouring the wine back in just before you serve it, so that your guests can see exactly what they are drinking.

Finally, if you’re opening a very old wine – and I mean one old enough to be fragile – only decant, if at all, just before you’re ready to drink, otherwise you may lose the last vestige of quality the wine possesses.

So those, briefly, are the whys and hows of decanting.  Now you know that, the choice is yours.