Decanting Basics, by Montesquieu Winery: Part 2 — How to Decant?
August 14, 2011, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi
In Decanting Basics by Montesquieu Winery Part 1, we covered all about why and when to decant, relaying how although it may seem complicated, decanting is really a very straightforward and effective tool to help you get the most out of your wine experience.
To summarize, the reasons why to decant fall into three main categories: removal of sediment, aeration and aesthetics. When to decant relates to each of these categories and can be easily determined by some general rules of thumb.
Sediment. Wines that are ten years or older should be decanted as they are more likely to have sediment, especially reds that have higher tannin content, generally fuller-bodied reds. However, it doesn’t hurt to check all bottles, especially if you are not sure whether they are unfiltered or unfined. To determine whether or not a bottle has sediment, simply hold in front of a light or candle. Vintage Port always has sediment so should always be decanted.
If you detect sediment, there are various ways to decant. Allow for several hours or more to place the bottle upright so the sediment will settle to the bottom. With an older wine, say ten years or older, (especially if being served for a special occasion) allow at least a day or so.
Make sure to have a clear, clean decanter or receptacle on hand and a small light or candle. If it is being done at the table, there are many elegant decanters and accessories available such as cradles, candle-holders and the like. A candle that is part of the table setting will easily suffice.
Remove the entire capsule and clean the neck of the bottle with a clean cloth or napkin before you open the wine. Position the candle or light behind or under the bottle so that the neck of the bottle is illuminated when you pour. Angle the decanter to ease the wine gently from bottle to decanter, pouring very slowly while observing the neck of the wine bottle for sediment. It is important to pour very slowly and steadily as to not disturb the sediment in the base of the wine bottle. When you see the sediment particles creeping up to the neck, stop pouring immediately. Voilà! The wine in the decanter should be clear. Let the wine breathe for a bit and enjoy. Mature wines with sediment generally do not need to aerate very long at all, as a younger wine would.
An alternative (and faster) method is to use a filter designed for wine as you pour into your decanter. We have found this to work well for larger pieces of sediment, however fine sediment will pass through yielding cloudy wine in the decanter. We prefer the traditional method for the best result, plus the process itself is slower and lends to savoring the experience—much like the Japanese tea ceremony designed to heighten and focus the senses.
Additionally, the gentler pour is important when serving very mature wines, particularly more nuanced varietals. In this case too much jostling and oxygen introduced to the wine would not be ideal, especially for aged Burgundies with their complex and nuanced secondary aromas which would dissipate with too much aeration.
Aeration. Younger reds, especially full-bodied ones, benefit from decanting to allow the tannins to integrate and the alcohol to diminish. A young full-bodied red that may seem “hot” (the sensation of high alcohol on the palate) when decanted will very often improve as the alcohol decreases, allowing us to sense the other components of the wine more readily. In essence this simulates what will happen over time with bottle aging, giving a peek into how the wine may evolve.
There is a school of thought that believes almost every wine would benefit from decanting for the purpose of aeration, opening up the aromas for better tasting. In our experience, this holds value for the same reason we swirl a wine in the glass before we taste. 80% of what we experience when tasting a wine comes from our sense of smell. Aerating a wine releases the aromatic compounds so we can experience the personality and character of the wine more.
Aesthetics. Taking time to smell the roses is a good thing. A beautifully adorned table is a pleasing sight, and taking the time to slow down and enjoy a lovely meal with special wine in the company of family and loved ones is definitely a good thing. Decanting for this purpose looks nice, feels nice and with the benefits of aeration, makes sense.
If you are decanting in order to aerate, or for aesthetics, the process is easy! Simply transfer the wine from the bottle into the decanter of your choice. Some choose to enhance aeration by opting for devices that slip into the neck of the bottle or decanter. The same result may be reached by swirling the decanter, and for that matter the glass itself!
There are many decanters and accessories to choose from, and just like finding wines you enjoy among the many styles available, it is a matter of personal taste. No matter the wine or the occasion, decanting will enhance the experience and provide an opportunity to slow down a bit, savor and enjoy more out of every wine!