Decanting a wine – or the act of pouring a wine into a separate vessel before serving it – is a process that often raises a lot of questions. Which wines need to be decanted? How long before serving should you decant? Does decanting actually improve the taste of a wine or is it just a pompous, old-fashioned tradition?
Decanting wine has two purposes: separating the wine from sediment, and giving it a bit of room to “breathe” – exposing the wine to air softens and rounds out its flavor. Most people would agree that older, fortified and more robust reds benefit from decanting.
When it comes to aerating wine, the need for wine to be decanted actually varies, and so does the required time. Most red wines will benefit from a bit of airing and it won’t hurt if the wine sits for a while before serving – this is particularly true if a wine seems inexpressive at first taste. Contact with oxygen often opens up flavors (which is also what you aim to do when you swirl a wine in your glass before sipping).
It really does come down to the choice of wine and your personal preference, but if you do choose to decant, here are five things to consider:
Aesthetics: Everyone drinks first with their eyes so pick a decanter that is appealing and matches your glassware. Pay attention to how it handles and pick a style that is easy to pour. More often than not, decanters are placed in very visible places, so pick one you and your guests will enjoy looking at.
The thin neck vs wide neck debate: You’ll want to get one that matches your wine preference and usage. Wide-necked decanters expose the wine to air more quickly than thin-necked ones. If you like to spend time appreciating the experience, then a thin-necked decanter is a winner.
Pick decanters that are easy to clean: Depending on the design, cleaning decanters can be a hassle. Picking one that is easier to clean makes it more likely to be used on a regular basis. Crystal decanters often have more etchings and indentations but are also considered timelessly elegant. For more informal occasions, a smooth glass decanter is your best bet.
Divide and conquer: For faster decanting, you can pour wine into two smaller carafe- sized decanters. Otherwise, let the wine sit and enjoy it as it evolves.
Time is of the essence: Older wines tend to fade more quickly than younger ones, so 30 minutes of decanting should be enough for an old wine, otherwise you can risk a flat or even sour note creeping in. That said, younger, full-bodied, wines can go beyond an hour of decanting.
TOP TIPS: If you use large glasses when drinking your reds, you can skip the decanting and let your wine develop in the glass.
Always dry your decanters well before storage and rinse them out before usage to avoid musty odors from ruining your wine drinking experience.