How important is it to use a decanter when serving wine? And which wines should be decanted anyway? Here's a useful guide for decanting wines.
What Wine are normally Decanted?
Decanting wine does actually serve a practical purpose. It might seem a little pretentious, an unnecessary affectation performed by wine buffs alone, but decanting wine is considered a simple and important way to improve the flavour of many – but not necessarily all – wines.
Not all wine needs to be decanted although many would argue that all wine benefits from aeration. Very young, light reds such as a Pinot Noir are unlikely to have formed any sediment, and their flavours are generally not complex enough to warrant the effort. It’s usually the older, more full-bodied wines that develop a mellower, more enjoyable flavour after aeration – even fuller bodied whites such as Chardonnay may benefit. Wines that have been aged in the bottle, including vintage reds such as Shiraz and Claret, are ideal to decant, and port in particular is a great candidate. Some younger reds such as a Cabernet Sauvignon and even Bordeaux might also benefit from aeration to soften any over-aggressive tannins.
There are two primary reasons why you would want to decant a wine, and a third, less well known opportunity.
How do I Decant?
If you’re trying to remove the sediment from the bottle, in addition to aerating it, the first thing to do is stand the bottle upright for a few hours. This allows the sludge to fall to the bottom.
Here are some things to consider when deciding whether or not to go to the trouble of decanting your wine:
- Does your chosen wine actually need to be decanted?
- Do you have a decanter or suitable receptacle?
- Do you have time to let the wine properly breathe?
- Do you have a well-enough developed palate to appreciate the difference in flavour decanting imbues?
- Your decanter needs to be big enough to hold a full bottle (usually 750ml) of wine.
- Choose a decanter that suits your lifestyle and taste; it doesn’t need to be an expensive lead crystal number which needs gentle handwashing and careful storage. A glass carafe or ceramic jug will work just as well (but never plastic: this will stain but more importantly will infuse other flavours from whatever the receptacle has contained before).
- Make sure your decanter has a wide opening to help with the aeration process (otherwise you might as well leave it in the bottle).
- Allow enough time for the wine to mellow and soften but not too long as to overexpose it and turn the wine bitter.
- A decanter with a large, wide base is an ideal shape, allowing plenty of room to gently swirl the wine and introduce the critical oxygen.
And finally, what about bubbly? The jury’s out on whether or not to decant sparkling wine. The immediate assumption would be no – decanting softens the intensity of the bubbles, and isn’t getting bubbles up your nose what drinking fizz is all about? But some renowned glass manufacturers (Riedel – see our article on wine glasses here)have even produced dedicated Champagne decanters. It’s up to you!