So you just got your first wine decanter. Great! Or maybe there’s a wine decanter at the back of your cupboard – why not use it tonight? Wine decanters are amazing tools that truly help you bring out the best flavors, aromas and bouquets in your favorite bottle of wine. But do you know how to use a decanter properly? With just a few easy tips and a set of simple instructions, you’ll be well on your way to decanting and aerating your wine like the pros.
What is a decanter, exactly?
The process of decanting wine is literally to pour the contents of your wine bottle from one vessel to another, and a decanter is a bottle (or vase, or some other shape) that is made specifically for the purpose. Most of the time, people then serve the wine from the decanter, but in wine bottle service settings, the decanted wine is poured back into the bottle so that the customer can see the label. Typically, wine decanters are made from glass or crystal.
Why do we need to decant wine?
Decanting separates the wine from the sediment. Sediment is organic matter that forms in wine as it ages. With a gravel-like, sandy texture, sediment is unsightly in the glass, and also it affects the taste of the wine. It can make the wine taste more stringent. So when you carefully and slowly decant wine, you’re separating that beautiful clear wine from the sediment at the bottom of the bottle. First off let it be noted that not every wine needs to be decanted. Light bodied wines, young wines, and a few varietals do not need to be decanted. Most of the time, decanting wine is more necessary with older vintages or full-bodied single varietals (think Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel). However, decanting an old Burgundy or Pinot Noir I would advise against – even though it is old and a single varietal, the body of the wine is too light and it will be exposed to too much oxygen (I’ll get to that in a minute).
Which brings me to the second reason for you to decant your wine: this is because the wine also gets aerated in the process. Think about it – we know that wine has been in an air-tight bottle for at least a year, and it is commonly known that when the air hits that wine, the flavors and bouquets are going to develop as the wine breathes after all that time in the bottle. So when you decant a bottle of wine, you’re pouring ALL the wine out of the bottle into another vessel – that will definitely help a LOT of air reach the wine. By the time it is ready to sip and enjoy, the wine has been fully exposed to the air, bringing out all it’s special flavors, textures and aromas.
Once you get the hang of it, decanting wine is very easy (and you look like a wine professional at the same time – win, win – or should I say, wine, wine). The benefits to be had from decanting and aerating are many, and they reward the patient wine lover, from the novice to the discerning connoisseur. Simply follow these steps and you’ll be decanting like the pros in no time:
Step One. First, make sure that the bottle has been sitting in an upright position for at least 24 hours. Since most of our household wine racks these days store the bottles on their sides, it is a good idea to set yourself a reminder the day before, to stand the bottle up. The reason you want the bottle upright for 24 hours is because sediment sinks. In standing the bottle up for a day, all the sediment will sink to the bottom, and this will make it much easier for you to decant the wine.
Step Two. Clean off your decanter. Make doubly sure that your decanter is clean and dry, free from any dust or debris, inside and out. The best way to do this is with a microfiber towel – you can easily find microfiber towels in any big box store. Wipe down the decanter outside and inside, making sure that all the dust and debris is gone. Dust and debris can affect the taste of the wine.
Step Three. Remove the capsule and then remove the cork, wiping the bottle neck clean. Also, a lot of people don’t bother to remove the foil or wax capsule of the wine before going at that cork with a corkscrew, but I would recommend that you do. You do run the risk of accidentally getting foil or wax shavings into the wine. Secondly, historically, foil and wax was used to seal the cork inside the bottle and protect the cork from being nibbled on by critters. And so the tradition stands and virtually every bottle has a capsule these days. And don’t forget to take that microfiber towel to the bottle neck again, too! Same goes with steps two and three: make sure all the dust is removed from everywhere.
Step Four. Hold a light behind the neck of the bottle, and pour half of the wine slowly and steadily into the decanter. You may feel the urge to hold the decanter, but don’t worry – the heavy crystal will keep the decanter from tumbling over. You can use one hand on the bottle, one hand on the flashlight.
Step Five. Pour VERY slowly, and as soon as you see sediment in the neck of the bottle, STOP! If you followed STEP ONE and truly let that sediment settle to the bottom of the bottle, this should only leave an ounce or two undrinkable, and you can throw it away. Remember that not all sediment is going to look totally gravelly – a lot of the time, the wine will just start to look cloudy or you’ll see little specks in the neck of the bottle.
Cheers! You’re ready to serve your wine from the decanter.
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