Even some of your most knowledgeable friends likely stop short of decanting wine, some wonder if it’s necessary, more simply don’t understand the process while others still feel that it has an air of pretension.
So does decanting serve any purpose other than impressing on an audience that the decanter is a true wine expert? Is it worth the extra time and can it ruin your wine? Although there are differences of opinion the majority of wine experts agree it can be beneficial to decant your wine. However this will depend on the wine.
What is Wine decanting?
A “decanter” is a glass bottle allowing the separation of sediment from the rest of the wine resulting in a clearer and smoother wine. Decanting also mimics the swirling of a glass allowing the wine to breath, improving the aroma and taste.
Why should you decant your wine?
An older bottle of red wine will have more sediment than a newer bottle. The sediment is a combination of yeast, grape skins and other ingredients which will ruin the flavour of the wine creating an unpleasant tasting experience. Removing this sediment reduces the bitterness smooth the texture. This has long been a necessity however modern winemaking techniques have reduce the need to decant for the purpose of removing sediment. Older wines of over ten years old, particularly reds, have spent the majority of their lives maturing in bottles and will acquire an excess of solid matter which while harmless, will spoil the colour and palette of a wine.
Today the more common reason for decanting is to give the wine the opportunity to “breathe” or mix with oxygen before being drunk. This can be important as younger wines can taste bitter and have a overpowering taste of alcohol if they have not been aerated. Allowing air to spread across the surface area breaks up tannins and separates the flavour of the wine, bringing out the aroma. This is accomplished in much the same way as when we swirl a glass of wine. This tannin breakdown process typically takes place as wine ages which is why young wines benefit the most from aerating.
How to Decant Wine
Decanting For Sediment
If possible, let the bottle stand upright for at least a day to allow the sediment to settle. Remove the cork and clean the sediment from the neck of the bottle with a cloth. Some experts suggest holding the bottle in front of a candle while slowly and carefully pouring the wine into the decanter allowing you to see the sediment. When you see the sediment is in the neck of the bottle, stop pouring. You will typically be left with a half glass of sediment and a full carafe of wine.
Decanting For Aeration
If you are decanting solely for the purpose of aeration, simply transfer the wine into the decanter and let it sit. For a younger wine sitting open to the air for over two hours is unlikely to cause issue however it is risky to let older wines sit opened at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
If your decanting process will exceed 2 hours it is advisable to let the wine sit in the decanter in a room that approximates cellar temperature (55-65 degrees.) While wines such as Barolo can sit for up to 8 hours without spoiling unless you have experience with a particular wine, it is wise to err on the side of caution and decant for shorter periods of time, usually ½-2 hours (although this also depends on age.