Ah, there’s nothing quite like a rich, dark hearted wine sitting happily in a sparkling clean decanter is there? Not only does it look lovely, it heightens our sense of expectation. It also looks super-posh, and every once in a while that can’t be a bad thing.
So why do we decant? Which wines do we make a point of decanting? How do you actually do it?
There are two principle reasons for decanting.
1.To remove sediment in aged (red) wines
As red wine ages, a deposit may form. This sediment is completely harmless and natural, but not very pleasant on the palate. The purpose of decanting here is to make sure the wine pours clear and bright.
2.To allow the wine to breathe
Decanting wine aerates it. Contact with oxygen develops the wine, bringing out aromas and softening it. This breathing process is sometimes favoured for young red wines that may otherwise come across as harsh and tough.
Which wines need to be decanted?
As a general rule of thumb it’s good to assume that red wines that have seen 10+ years in bottle will need to be decanted. You may however see winemakers indicate on their labels that their red wine is produced “unfined and unfiltered” (or words to that effect). In this case you’d expect to see sediment in the bottle at any stage.
Remember of course that only a small proportion of wines commercially available have the capacity to age 10 years+! Most are designed to be drunk young (within 1 to 2 years of release date).
How to decant
Stand the bottle upright
If your bottle is resting in your wine rack, now’s the time to take it out and stand it upright. The sediment needs to collect in the base of the bottle – it’s best to allow at least 24 hours for this to happen.
Before you uncork the wine, remove the capsule and clean the neck and shoulder of the bottle
As you decant you need to see what’s happening in the bottle shoulder and neck (more of this shortly).
Get some light
Before you start decanting, get a candle, or a torch, and make sure the light source is positioned to shine through the wine neck as you are pouring.
Uncork, and start pouring
Yes, this is it, you’re decanting! There’s nothing particularly to think about here, just make sure you are pouring slow and steady. Keep pouring until you see the swirl of sediment collecting in the shoulder of the bottle. If any arrowheads of sediment start appearing in the wine running through the neck of the bottle you are going too far (remember you want the wine to pour clear and bright). You would generally expect no more than 1/2 an inch of sediment laden wine to be left in the bottle at the end of this stage.
Some people use wire mesh (note this needs to be very fine), muslin cloth or coffee filters in a funnel throughout the decanting process to remove wine sediment. This can strip the wine of its character and is not recommended by The Tasting Quarter. For our wine tasting events we use muslin at the end of the decanting process, a foolproof approach which extracts every last drop.
If a wine is 20ish + years old it may be delicate (in the wine trade this is known as “ghost in the glass”). In this case decant the wine just before drinking.
Decanting wines to aerate them
Just follow the process above and let the wine stand for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Take care here though – allowing certain wines to stand for much longer than this can cause oxidation.
Finally, double decanting
This is not as complicated as it sounds! This is simply the process of pouring a decanted wine back into its original bottle (typically with the help of a funnel). Double decanting is favoured by bling-bling types who want people to see the achingly expensive wine being served.
For double decanting, before you pour the wine back in, remove any remaining sediment from the bottle by rinsing it out with water (shaking the bottle if necessary as some sediment can leave a caking effect).