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Decanting: When, Why and How-To

Posted February 19th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Decanting wine is essentially the process of transferring wine, usually older wines or port, into a different vessel than its original bottle. It is a simple process with considerable benefits. Decanting is used to remove the sediment that may have accumulated in older wines but it is also a useful tool that allows wine to successfully breathe.  


The most common reason for decanting is to remove the sediment from an older wine, particularly red wine. The reason sediment occurs is because wine naturally has particles from the grape skins and seeds but with the aging process those particles have had the opportunity to separate from the wine and settle in the bottle. By using a decanter you can easily separate the sediment from the wine. This is a very desirable quality of decanting as the sediment is not something one would want to consume. While it is a natural result of the aging process and completely harmless, sediment is not exactly appealing to the eye or the mouth.


Another benefit of decanting is to let the wine breathe which simply means letting oxygen mingle with the wine, usually younger wines, to open up the the aroma and revealing the full potential of the wine by softening its young bite. Simply uncorking a bottle will not permit enough air exposure because of the small opening of the neck.


Finally, from a strictly vain perspective, using a decanter is a beautiful way of presenting your wine. In most cases, decanters are designed to look charming and attractive. The old saying holds true that we eat with our eyes first and the same can be said for enjoying wine. Color is an important factor in wine drinking and for that reason alone, serving wine in a decanter is fabulously alluring. 


When decanting to remove sediment there are a few steps to follow:


-Stand the bottle upright for several hours or the day before you plan on decanting so the sediment can settle on the bottom of the bottle.


-In addition to removing the cork you will also want to remove the foil seal surrounding the top of the bottle. This allows you to see the entire bottle and thus, when the sediment reaches the top you will know when to stop pouring. Some people choose to do the pouring process with a lit candle behind the bottle to further assist in noticing the sediment in the neck of the bottle. To do this, place the lit candle directly behind (but not touching) the neck of the bottle. 


-Gently and slowly pour the wine into the decanter trying to avoid any of the sediment sneaking in. You will notice the presence of the sediment when you see it as it is much thicker and darker than the actual wine itself. Once you see the sediment in the neck of the bottle while you are pouring this is the time to stop pouring. Place the bottle down to rest for a minute or two then carefully pour once again just to be sure.


-After you have successfully decanted the wine you may serve it immediately.


In the absence of sediment if your goal is to let a younger wine breathe, simply pour the wine into the decanter and let it breathe an hour or so.


When choosing a decanter you'll want to look for a clear glass carafe. There are many different decanters on the market and they can range from simple glass to exquisite crystal. They come in an array of shapes, sizes, even upright or sideways versions. And while the more elegant decanters can run fairly pricey, a basic decanter will retail for an average of $20-$30 and that is all one really needs for effective decanting. These can usually be found at any gourmet kitchen shop, specialty wine stores or are widely available online.


Decanting is not absolutely necessary by any means but it does have its benefits and if for just a few reasons it certainly adds an extra element to partaking in a delightful bottle of wine.


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