Decanting is one of those elements of wine service that remains mysterious and intimidating – we offer some advice.

Seems like serving a wine should be easy enough: Just open and pour. But anyone who has ever struggled with a crumbling cork, or listened to a debate over whether the Cabernet they’re drinking needs to “breathe” more, knows that sometimes it’s not quite so simple.

Decanting is one of those elements of wine service that remains mysterious and intimidating to many drinkers: Which wines need it? When to do it? And how? Is it really even necessary or just a bit of wine pomp and circumstance?

Get the Sediment Out

Fundamentally, decanting serves two purposes: to separate a wine from any sediment that may have formed and to aerate a wine in the hope that its aromas and flavours will be more vibrant upon serving.

Older red wines and Vintage Ports naturally produce sediment as they age (white wines rarely do); the colour pigments and tannins bond together and fall out of solution. Stirring up the sediment when pouring will cloud a wine’s appearance and can impart bitter flavours and a gritty texture. It’s not harmful, but definitely less enjoyable.

Decanting is simply the process of separating this sediment from the clear wine. It’s fairly safe to assume that a red will have accumulated sediment after five to 10 years in the bottle, even if this can’t be verified visually, and should be decanted.

Here’s how to do it well:

Set the bottle upright for 24 hours or more before drinking, so the sediment can slide to the bottom of the bottle, making it easier to separate. Locate a decanter or other clean, clear vessel from which the wine can easily be poured into glasses.

Remove the capsule and cork; wipe the bottle neck clean. Hold a light under the neck of the bottle; a candle or flashlight works well. Pour the wine into the decanter slowly and steadily, without stopping; when you get to the bottom half of the bottle, pour even more slowly. Stop as soon as you see the sediment reach the neck of the bottle.

Sediment isn’t always chunky and obvious; stop if the wine’s color becomes cloudy or if you see what looks like specks of dust in the neck. The wine is now ready to serve. Discard the remaining ounce or two of sediment-filled liquid in the bottle.

Santé!

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