Wine decanting guide

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? This article contains Amazon links to products we actually use in our wine tasting events. Why decant? 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. Short cuts Some people use wire mesh (note this needs to be very fine), muslin cloth (we use this butter muslin) 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. Tip 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, we use this style of wine funnel without its mesh). 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).

Pip Martin is the Founder of The Tasting Quarter, a Corporate Wine Tasting & Specialist Events Company. After management positions in Harrod’s Foodhall, Pip became Corporate Events Manager at Richard Branson’s online wine merchant, Virgin Wines, where he hosted over 200 wine events in a little over 15 months for companies including BBC, Morgan Stanley, PricewaterhouseCoopers and JP Morgan. Since 2002, via The Tasting Quarter, Pip and his team have produced and hosted tastings in South Africa, Dubai, Morocco, Ireland, Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark, Finland and Switzerland for groups of 10 to 3000+. He has run virtual, hybrid and AI augmented tastings for companies including AVMI, Oracle, Adobe, Google and Cisco. He also counts all the Magic Circle law firms in the UK as repeat clients for in-person events. Pip’s media work has included wine presenting on Sky One’s Taste programme and BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen. Writing credits include wine articles for Condé Nast’s Gourmet Travel and Esquire.