In these days of advanced wine making techniques many people wonder if decanting wine is still necessary. Does it serve a purpose other than impressing on you that you are in the company of a true wine expert? Is it worth the extra time?
While there is a difference of opinion among some wine experts, the vast majority says that it is beneficial to decant your wine. However, the reason for decanting will depend on the wine.
A “decanter” is a glass receptacle used to separate the small amount of liquid containing sediment from the rest of the wine. Separating the sediment before serving, results in a clearer and smoother wine. Decanting also allows the wine to breath, improving the aroma and taste.
An older bottle of red wine will have more sediment than a more recent bottle. The sediment is a combination of yeast, grape skins and other ingredients that can lead to an unpleasant tasting experience. By removing this sediment the taste of the wine is less bitter and the texture is smoother. Modern winemaking techniques reduce the need to decant for the purpose of removing sediment, however, wines that are over ten years old, particularly reds, have spent most of their lives maturing in bottles and tend to have an excess of solid matter. While the sediment is harmless, it can spoil the color and appeal of a wine.
The other, more common, reason for decanting is to give the wine a chance to mix with oxygen, or “breath”. Young wine that has not been aerated can taste bitter and have a strong taste of alcohol. Allowing air to get across the surface area breaks up tannins and frees up the flavor of the wine, bringing out the aroma. This is what happens when we swirl a glass of wine. This process normally takes place from years in the bottle and that is why young wines benefit the most from aerating.
Procedure for decanting wine in order to remove sediment:*
If possible, let the bottle stand upright for up to two days to allow the sediment to settle. Remove the cork and then wipe the sediment from the neck of the bottle with a cloth. Experts suggest that you hold the bottle in front of a candle as you slowly and carefully pour the wine into the decanter. This will help you see the sediment. When you see the sediment is in the neck of the bottle, stop pouring. The end result is a full carafe of wine with a half glass of sediment.
*If decanting for the purpose of aeration, simply transfer the wine into the decanter and let it sit for ½-2 hours (depending on age). It is risky to let older wines sit opened at room temperature for more than 2 hours, and if your decanting procedure will be over 2 hours, it is best to have the wine sit in the decanter in a room that approximates cellar temperature (55-65 degrees.) Wines such as Barolo can sit for 8 hours and not be spoilt by the time, but unless you have experience with a particular wine, it is safer to err on the side of caution and decant for shorter periods of time.
If you are still unsure about the benefits of decanting, take the time to experiment with it yourself at home. You are likely to fine that the process will make an average wine good and a great wine outstanding!
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