Decanting a Wine

Karen Frazier
Decanting a wine

Decanting a wine is one of those mysterious rituals…what else involves a candle, a nice big glass/crystal pitcher, and a sommelier at hand to complete the process for you? There is actually nothing to it, and you too can reap the benefits that decanting provides your wines.

What is Decanting?

Decanting is basically the process of pouring wine from your bottle into another receptacle of some sort. The reason is to aerate (or oxygenate) the wine to make it breathe better. This process opens up the wines, bringing out more in-depth aromas and flavors that otherwise would not show, especially in young wines. So which wines need decanting? Some people say that all red wines should be decanted. Decanting all of your red wines sometimes is not an option, especially if you have large parties or you don't have the time.

Where to Buy Decanters

Most wine shops sell decanters, as do many stores that sell dishes and stemware. You can also find a variety of decanters at online retailers, such as Wine Enthusiast and Decanters.com.

What Should You Decant?

Should you decant a white wine? The answer isn't a flat-out "no," but a more accurate answer would be not usually. Some white wines, such as a young Mersault or Chablis from France that are made to age would probably benefit greatly by being decanted. Most white wines are made to drink a bit younger, and decanting them would not offer significant benefits. Red wines that benefit the most from decanting are young Cabernet Sauvignons (or any big, powerful red) and other tannic wines. The structures of these wines are made to age a little, giving them a chance to integrate the fruit and resolving those harsh tannins. Decanting the wine helps it "air out," making the wine show its complexity and layers that would not show if you just poured it right from the bottle. In older bottles of wine (five years and on) sediment tends to form in the bottle. This is a natural process of bottle aging, but not necessarily something you want to drink or have in your glass. Decanting helps remove this sediment so it does not cloud the wine or make unsightly (and not very tasty) tannin deposits in your glass.

How to Decant

First off, just opening a bottle and letting it sit on the counter does not count. If you think about it, the wine that is actually getting air is so miniscule, and it doesn't give all the liquid a chance to get oxygen. To decant, you will need a receptacle to pour your wine into. If all you have is a plastic pitcher or something not very pretty to put on the table in place of the bottle, that's okay. After you pour the wine into the pitcher you can pour it back into the bottle (called double-decanting). You can purchase decanters in any shape and size, but what you are looking for, remember, is to oxygenate your wine. Choose a design that allows the most surface area of the wine to be in contact with the air. If you're opening a young wine you normally don't have to worry about tannin deposits in the bottle. Just open the bottle and pour it into the decanter. If it is a really young wine, turning the bottle completely upside down "beats up" the wine a little, giving it more air as you pour, which can speed the process along. Once it is in the decanter, give it a few swirls and let it sit for a bit, maybe tasting it every ten minutes to see how it is progressing.

Decanting Older Wines

For older wines, more steps are needed. First off, decanting an older wine is really meant to help with the tannin deposits in the bottle. If you have an older bottle, you know you will decant that evening, go ahead and in the morning stand it upright so that all the sediment particles go to the bottom of the bottle. That period of time helps ensure that all the particles are at the bottom, not still floating around. Next, get a light source (a candle is traditional) that allows you to see through the neck of the bottle. Take the cork out and slowly pour the wine into the decanter. Stop pouring when you see sediment start to pour with the wine. Set the wine down and repeat again 15 to 30 minutes later. You may have to do this three to five times to get all the wine out of the bottle. It is normal to have a little bit of wine left over in the bottle with heavy sediment. Once you are done, sit back, take a sip, and enjoy.

Decanting a Wine