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To decant or not to decant? That is the question…

Decanting wines or not by Wines With Attitude

Often regarded as an old-fashioned, even somewhat pretentious practice, decanting wine has its fair share of doubters. Is decanting simply done for show or does it serve a useful purpose? If so, which wines should be decanted and how long before serving should wine be decanted? This blogpost looks into the why, which, how and when of decanting wine.

WHY DECANT WINE?

The main reason historically for decanting wine was to remove it from any naturally-occurring sediment often seen in wines that have aged a while in bottle. This sediment can taste bitter and, let’s face it, is unpleasant in texture – no-one likes to get that gritty last mouthful of wine. You would expect to see a sediment in vintage & crusted port and wines, mostly red wines, that have been aged for a number of years in bottle.

Decant wines with sediment by Wines With Attitude

Some younger wines can also benefit from being decanted. There is a small but growing number of natural winemakers who prefer not to filter their wine and so you can also find younger wines with a deposit (at Wines With Attitude I warn you in my unique tasting notes when I expect you to find sediment). But in general we have moved to drinking wines that are younger and younger and most have not had chance to develop a sediment before consumption and have also usually been clarified, fined and filtered to remove any solid matter.

Removing wine from its sediment is not the only reason to decant wine however. Most wines, even my nemesis, those cheap and nasty ‘commercial’ wines, can taste better after being decanted simply because the aeration caused on pouring the wine into another receptacle releases aromas and flavours. This is especially true for younger wine and those sealed with a screw cap where the wine may have had less exposure to oxygen than a wine from a bottle sealed with a cork and can be ‘closed’, i.e. displaying few aromas and flavours. Decanting wine can help any closed wine to open up or you could simply swirl the wine in your glass to aerate it.

Aggressive tannins can also be softened a little by decanting as adding oxygen can suppress them. And if a wine smells musty or slightly off – and increasingly wines are being made with little or no sulphur which acts as an antioxidant and preservative – decanting can help remove some unwanted aromas. It cannot however save a corked or spoilt wine (read about wine faults in another of my blogposts).

So it can be worth decanting most wines – but be careful not to over-expose older wines as too much oxygen can spoil them or make the aromas and flavours fall flat.

And whatever you do, please do not take up the craze in the USA in the early years of the last decade of hyper-decanting, believe it or not, putting young red wines in a blender for aeration! Simple decanting or swirling is sufficient.

WHICH WINES SHOULD BE DECANTED?

Old red wines may need decanting by Wines With Attitude

Aggressive tannins can also be softened a little by decanting as adding oxygen can suppress them. And if a wine smells musty or slightly off – and increasingly wines are being made with little or no sulphur which acts as an antioxidant and preservative – decanting can help remove some unwanted aromas. It cannot however save a corked or spoilt wine (read about wine faults in another of my blogposts).

So it can be worth decanting most wines – but be careful not to over-expose older wines as too much oxygen can spoil them or make the aromas and flavours fall flat.

And whatever you do, please do not take up the craze in the USA in the early years of the last decade of hyper-decanting, believe it or not, putting young red wines in a blender for aeration! Simple decanting or swirling is sufficient.

HOW TO DECANT WINE

Decanting does not have to be complicated or take a long time – nor are elaborate crystal decanters required. In its simplest form just pouring the wine from the bottle into a jug or carafe and back (after removing any sediment from the original bottle) – known as double decanting – can be sufficient. If you are decanting an old wine, treat it with care and pour gently. Younger inexpressive wines may benefit from a more lively pouring.

The traditional method of decanting was to place a candle below the neck of the bottle (with capsule removed) to help you see the deposit and stop it going into the jug or carafe. This is not necessary – any lamp may be used under the neck of the bottle or simply pour in a well-lit area keeping an eye on that sediment.

Try to pour the wine in one go to avoid mixing the sediment back into the wine. Older wines that have been lying in the wine rack should be placed upright for a day or two before decanting so that the sediment falls to the bottom of the bottle.

HOW LONG BEFORE SERVING SHOULD YOU DECANT WINE?

I have seen advice that you can decant wine four hours or more before serving but I would recommend decanting no more than an hour before serving – and for older (15+ year-old) wines, just before serving is sufficient; too long before and there is a danger that aromas and flavours will fall away. If you are unsure, just decant a little and try the wine to see how it develops in your glass.

Pouring wine to aerate it by Wines With Attitude

And if even the simple method seems too much trouble, just pouring wine from a height or swirling a wine in your glass will often be sufficient to improve the experience. Certainly for young red wines, highly tannic wines and closed wines, swirling will have the same effect as decanting. I am not alone in this advice – in a recent review of Candialle Chianti Classico JancisRobinson.com said “Vigorous nose with signs of development while it needs to take a really deep breath. Still I wouldn’t decant it because it is fascinating to see it open up in the glass. Undergrowth makes way for layers of savoury cherry fruit and spice with hints of cinnamon bark and liquorice. Fantastic complexity and brooding depth.”

Cheers!

I am passionate about good quality wine and set up Wines With Attitude to share that passion with other wine lovers. If you’re feeling sociable why not follow me on social media or share my blog with others?

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