Decanting is something some wine lovers enjoy doing, while others like to debate the pros and cons. Does it matter? It seems everyone has an opinion.
When you decant a wine, you pour it (decanting) into another container (decanter) for two reasons; to filter off the sediment so the wine is not gritty or bitter, and/or to allow it to ‘breathe’ by mixing air with the wine to liven up it’s flavors and aromas.
Decanting for Sediment -
Most young wines sold today in the US, do not need to be decanted for sediment. The winemaking process clarifies and filters wines before they are bottled. However, some ‘natural’ wines may contain sediment since they are not filtered in any way before bottling. White wines that are unfiltered will appear cloudy or hazy in appearance.
Older red wines, like Cabernets, Zinfandels, Syraz, and Ports, may have sediment, which occurs naturally as certain wines age. Sediment may be found in the bottom of the bottle and looks like mud, or thick grit. Removing this before serving will make the wine presentation much nicer and also help eliminate the dry, bitter flavors that come from the sediment.
Decanting a wine is not difficult, regardless of what you may have read, or been told. Some wine lovers use special equipment such as a wine cradle and candle, but all you really need is a steady hand and another container (decanter) to pour the wine in.
Begin by letting the wine bottle stand upright for two or three days so the sediment goes to the bottom. Pour the wine slowly into another container. When the sediment begins to gather in the shoulder and neck of the bottle slow the pour even more, allowing sediment more to gather there. The wine bottle is actually made to catch this sediment when the wine is poured slowly.
Decanting for Aeration -
When you aerate a wine, you are allowing air into it. This is also known as allowing it to ‘breathe.’ The air allows the release of more aromas and flavors. It is said that aeration also allows the tannins to ‘soften’, but that is debated in the industry. The wines that benefit most from aeration are, again, the heavy reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel, and Port.
Aeration may help a young, lackluster wine by brightening the taste. It may also help a wine that has a slight, unappealing order. This can be a common problem with ‘natural’ wines. After allowed to breathe, these wines may become more palatable. If they become worse, dump the bottle as it may be corked.
To aerate a wine, simply pour it from the bottle into a decanter. This does not need to be a special wine decanter, but simply a container with a wide bottom that will allow the surface air to mix with the wine. Just pulling the cork will not allow enough air to reach the wine in the bottle.
Decanting times vary depending on the wine. For a young wine, let it breathe for 20 minutes, up to an hour. For an older wine, try 10 or 15 minutes. The longer an older wine aerates, the more the flavors can deteriorate. Vintage Ports may be allowed to ‘breathe’ longer.
If you’re not sure how long to aerate, check the wine by pouring a splash into a glass and tasting it every 15 minutes. Aeration is supposed to liven up the wine, making it taste more vibrant, more flavorful. Just be careful not to decant for too long because the flavors can disappear.
Remember, most wines are to be consumed within a couple of years of their release. While aeration might help them, it is not mandatory. The best way to find out is to experiment.
In the end, the decision to decant is best made according to each bottle. Decanting for sediment makes sense to avoid a mouthful of bitter grit. Aerating a wine is more of a personal preference. If you find that you enjoy a certain wine more when it’s decanted, then feel free to do it. If you really can’t tell the difference, then don’t worry about it. Wine is meant to be enjoyed, so forget the “rules” and enjoy it the way YOU like it!!