Decanting wine – is it worth it?
The question of when to decant a bottle of wine is one that I am asked at almost every wine-tasting. Is it worth the effort? How far in advance should it be done? And most commonly – How do I know which wines to decant?
Most of us don’t do it at home, and probably don’t own a proper decanter. We mostly see it done in restaurants, where expensive wines are theatrically poured into crystal decanters with just a touch of pomp and ceremony. This is all well and good, and certainly adds to the restaurant experience, but it shouldn’t suggest that these are the only circumstances under which wines should be decanted. In fact, pretty much all wines will benefit from it, and your decanter can be something as simple as a glass jug!
There are two main reasons for decanting wines – firstly, to allow the wine to breathe. Exposing (most) wine to oxygen allows it open up and release the full aromas and flavours. But in order for this to happen, the wine needs proper contact with air- simply pulling the cork an hour before you serve it does next to nothing as so little of the wine is exposed. When the wine is decanted- poured into another vessel- it becomes totally exposed to the air. Five minutes in a decanter is better than 2 hours with the cork pulled!
The second reason for decanting, and this is probably even more important, is to remove the wine from any sediment which may be in the bottle. Sediment – tannins which have clumped together and fallen out of the wine – can be found in young and old wine alike. Is unpleasant to taste and has a gritty texture. One mouthful of this will ruin a lovely bottle.
How to decant a wine- it’s really very simple. Allow the bottle to stand for a while beforehand –this is especially important if there is much sediment. If you want to be fancy, hold the neck of the bottle above a candle so you can see the light through the bottle. If you don’t have a candle nearby, just do it somewhere there is plenty of light. Gently pour the wine into the decanter, stopping as you see the sediment approaching the neck of the bottle. You should be left with about half an inch of wine in the bottom of the bottle. Don’t worry- you can always go back for it later!!
Finally- which wines should be decanted? It is probably easier to say which shouldn’t . Very old wines, like very old anything, are extremely delicate and will start to fade within minutes of exposure to air. These wines should be left to stand, and then pour directly from the bottle. Fine Burgundies are rarely decanted, but if they are young there is no problem doing it just before you drink it. Fresh, simple whites are probably the wines which benefit least, there really isn’t much point. Otherwise, I’d decant everything from a simple Cotes du Rhone to a top Aussie Shiraz. Ultimately, it is all about how to get the best from your wine. Temperature and glassware both make a massive difference to the wine experience.
So too can decanting, and it’s really very easy!
Award-winning Sommelier Ian Brosnan is ely’s executive wine manager.As one of Ireland’s best known and respected wine personalities, with numerous awards such as Best Sommelier in Ireland and Wine Personality of the Year to his name, Ian happily shares his years of experience and knowledge with thetaste.ie.