Decanting wine is one of those mysteries that leaves non-wine drinkers or new drinkers perplexed. Here is our super simple list of guidelines for decanting wine.
What is Decanting?
In reality, it is nothing more than allowing the wine to ‘breathe’ before you drink. The reasons for this are part of a complex chemical process. Suffice it to say, over time volatile compounds and particles settle into certain levels of the wine bottle. Decanting exposes the wine to air. This causes the compounds to mix in gently and improve the flavour of your wine.
When Should You Decant a Wine?
If you are really seeking a purist ideal, decant all wines. For expensive wines, decanting is very important. The vintners placed the wine in the bottle with a specific mixture of solids. Over time those solids settle in the wine. Decanting allows the solids and the aromatic compounds to mix back together.
Cheap wines can actually taste much better because of decanting. Even if it is a new wine, letting it breathe for 10 minutes can change the flavour for the better. Inexpensive wines can have a build-up of sulphur dioxide. This is the chemical that gives rotten eggs their smell. If you decant a cheap wine, the sulphur dioxide will dissipate and you will have a much nicer drink.
The general rule for decanting wine is to allow the wine to breathe for one hour for every decade that it has been in the bottle.
Wines that have high tannin levels can use more decanting. Syrah, Chianti, and other bold French and Italian wines benefit greatly from decanting.
How Not to Decant
One method of decanting is to simply shake the bottle. This might seem to solve the problem, getting the solids to mix back into the wine, but it’s like having grounds in your coffee; it won’t kill you, but it’s not as pleasant.
How to Decant
The entire purpose of decanting is to expose the wine to air. You can do this with a simple bowl, but you want to avoid plastic or stainless steel. Plastic bowls retain oils form foods that are stored or prepared in them and acids can leach some of the metals out of stainless steel, changing the flavour of the wine. A good glass bowl is fine, but there are special decanters for each wine type.
The basic wine decanter has a wide base and a narrow neck. The purpose is to give the wine a large surface area. This will allow that circulation.
Caring for Your Decanter
FYou will likely not want to wash your decanter with soap. It will be difficult to get all the detergent out and it might change the flavour of your wine. Simply rinse it well and use it again.