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The 5 W’s of Decanting Wine

Posted by: samy October 26, 2010 No Comments

People always ask me about decanting. It’s not just how it’s done, it appears there’s much confusion about when it should be done, and which wines merit the Big Show. While this is by no means a comprehensive tell-all, it’s a quick cheat sheet aimed at making you look spectacular at your next soiree. Salute!

Why?
Have you ever been disappointed with a wine that was immediately poured, and then after a little while said to your friends, “I didn’t like this at first, but now I think it’s really good!” That’s the power of decanting.

Decanting is done primarily for two reasons: aeration and removing sediment. Aeration, or letting the wine mingle with the air, will help bring out the flavours of the vino, while removing the sediment will take out the chalky bits at the bottom of the bottle, which taste bitter and don’t feel nice in your mouth, either.

When?
A good 30 minutes before sipping will get things moving, but for especially “tight” wines, like young Cabernets, Barolos or Vintage Ports, aim for at least an hour.

How?
If I’m decanting for aeration, I simply pour in a steady stream (please don’t turn the bottle upside down into the vessel and let it glug away – there’s nothing romantic about that).
But if I’m decanting for sediment, this is where things start to look really cool:

1. Grab a tall candle & light it
2. Remove the foil from the neck of the bottle so you can see better
3. Get a wide mouth decanter
4. Holding the bottle above the lit candle, slowly and carefully pour the contents into the decanter, watching the illuminated wine in the neck of the bottle. Once you see sediment, stop pouring!

It’s disappointing to see an inch or two of wine “go to waste” in the bottle, but it’s even more disappointing to gaze at your date only to have them smile at you with bits of black grit covering their teeth.

Who (or in this case, which)?

Whichever you think you should. I can’t count the number of times I’ve decanted for a table, only to look up and see the entire room staring at me. The theatrics and beauty of decanting add to the romance of wine, but lucky for us, decanting can help improve the product, too.

These wines are a good rule of thumb for an hour or so of decanting: cabernet, Bordeaux, Barolo, Barbaresco, Chateauneuf du Pape, shiraz … if you know the wine to be big, bold and pretty tannic, it’s a good candidate for a decanter.

But don’t rule out the whites! A few white Bordeaux and Burgundies really improve from aeration.

However, avoid decanting delicate wines like Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, light Chiantis and Cotes du Rhones. These wines will quickly deteriorate if exposed to the air for too long.

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