Want your wines to taste better? Wondering which wines you should decant and how you should decant them? Here are some tips on how and why it should be done.
In years gone by, before wines were methodically filtered and fined to ensure the reduction of sediment, decanting was a practical and necessary way of trying to negate the solid matter that could find its way into a bottle of wine.
When it comes to drinking older wines, this is still very much an issue and nobody would question the importance of a decanter. With newer wines though, the debate over decanting continues on, with some sceptics writing off the process as an ostentatious and outdated custom. However, the fact remains- many top sommeliers and winemakers do advocate the decanting of many newer wines, for a variety of reasons.
Decanting is the movement of wine from its original container to a fresh glass/crystal/stainless steel receptacle, leaving the sediment behind. It is supposed to allow the wine to breathe and improve the bouquet.
STAND THE BOTTLE UPRIGHT
It is customary to stand the bottle upright for up to two days before decanting, to let the sediment settle. Remove the cork or screwcap. Hold the bottle over a light or candle so that you can watch for the sediment as you pour the wine slowly into the decanter. Watch carefully and stop before the sediment leaves the bottle.
CLEAN THE BOTTLE FIRST
Clean around the top of the bottle immediately after removing the cork. A slightly mouldy or old cork can affect the wine as it is poured. Remember to cut the capsule below the last rim of the bottle top, so not to taint the wine.
SEDIMENT WILL AFFECT THE TASTE
It’s usual to decant fine old red wines and some vintage ports. Older Semillons and Rieslings will also benefit from decanting. Having spent most of their lives maturing in bottle, they can throw a deposit or crust into the glass, sullying the appearance and affecting the taste.
LETTING A YOUNG WINE DEVELOP
Exposure to air is said to improve the aromas and bouquet of younger wines and can give the wine a chance to bloom and attain a stage of development that normally requires years of ageing. By decanting the younger wines we are encouraging rapid oxidation, which is beneficial at the early stages, if not in the long term.
BOTTLE BY BOTTLE
Mount Pleasant Chief Winemaker Jim Chatto says that it can be difficult to establish clear cut guidelines to decanting:
“There are no hard and fast rules, the decision to decant is a wine by wine one. Some really young and/or tannic wines can benefit from the aeration. Old wines often look better with a careful decant to remove the sediment. However, timing on the older wines is key; too much air can quickly destroy a frail old wine.”
CHOOSING THE RIGHT DECANTER
A wider necked decanter will let in more air and should be used with wines that are to be drunk that day. Thinner necked decanters would be better if you intended to keep the wine or port overnight. The material used needs to be inert of flavour or taint to ensure the right flavours are tasted in the wine. Glass, Crystal, Stainless Steel are all able to be used. Riedel produce a wide range of options, in various shapes, materials and prices.
ONE FOR SKINFLINTS
Decanters also make the wine look of better quality. Remember, wine can be enjoyed by sight, as well as smell and taste!
AN HOUR EVERY TEN YEARS
When it comes to figuring out how long a wine should remain untouched after being decanted, a good rule of thumb is to leave it for an hour for every ten years it has been alive. If this is too demanding, try and leave it untouched for at least two hours!
OTHER DECANTING TECHNIQUES AND CONSIDERATIONS
There are a variety of other things to consider. Aerating pourers are increasingly popular and seek to aerate the wine as you pour directly in to your glass, removing the need for prolonged decanting. Using a blender to aerate your wine has also been proposed as a valid alternative to decanting, though many of the more conservative wine experts are hesitant to embrace its radical nature!
Double decanting is the process by which wine is poured into a decanter for the appropriate time, then poured back in to the original bottle when ready to serve. This is a popular technique at many wine dinners, where the original label and bottle are an important part of the experience!
THE EXPERT’S OPINION
If you are still in some confusion, you could follow the advice of Bordeaux negociant Christian Moueix: