I’m probably sticking my neck out here as this is quite a controversial topic, but like the concept of Wine Angel, I want to show you why, explain reasons and then let you make your own mind up!
People talk about decanting wine, but many feel obliged, pressurised in restaurants sometimes and a little unaware to be honest, as to why wine should or shouldn’t be decanted.
So, should wine be decanted?
My answer to the question is a resounding YES! However, this should be for YOUR benefit, the right reasons, and not for the pomp and ceremony attached.
You see, historically, before wine was treated by fining to produce the clean glass of wine we see today, wine was decanted as it usually had a sediment in the bottle which was produced over time by the ageing process or was cloudy from production. As the years passed and production of wine benefitted from these developments in fining (the wine is treated by passing and filtering through numerous compounds e.g. egg whites, betonite and isinglass) it then became an aristocratic formality to serve many wines from a decanter which in fact did not even have a sediment! It was just seen as elegant and formal but for no real reason.
But, I can show you the benefits of decanting the wines of today, as well as those old wines that deserve special attention and essential decanting. Hopefully you will be rushing out to buy a decanter now or brushing off the dust from the one in your cupboard!
There are some fabulous, ornate decanters available nowadays- my friend Elliot actually collects them!
As I said earlier, officially most wines don’t need decanting, however I believe that most of them can benefit to some degree. I quite like the unpredictability of it actually; it may or may not make a difference….you can taste a wine first, then decant it and see the difference. It makes you understand the wine more and its components. They can taste like two totally different wines- try it and see what I mean!
Firstly, very old wines should definitely be decanted, especially bottle aged reds as these can throw a sediment.
These are to be decanted very slowly, until you can see the sediment reaching the neck of the bottle. Preferably, let the bottle rest upright for a few days so the sediment settles on the bottom of the bottle, especially if this has been lying on its side in the cellar. It is best to remove the entire capsule so you can see when the sediment begins to rise, and can be viewed better with a torch or candle (very romantic if you are trying to impress someone!) under the neck whilst pouring the wine into the decanter. You will usually have about half a glass of sediment rich wine left in the bottle but you can save this for your gravy!
Also, please remember to only do this about 15-30 minutes maximum before you drink these wines, as the oxygen that gives the wine room to breathe can eventually become an enemy to wines that have already had their complex flavours developed in the bottle. There could be little available to flourish and these delicate wines could lose their aromas and intense flavours if exposed for too long.
This is also a reason why you should not drink prestigious, older red or white wines outside. The exquisite aromas and flavours you could be experiencing may very well get blown away on even the gentlest of breezes! So your overall experience will be dampened. Reserve these special wines for dining rooms!
Young wines are where the secrets lie in decanting! These benefit HUGELY from decanting, but for another reason. The aeration given by decanting (the exposure to oxygen) develops, softens and releases flavours and aromas that haven’t had time to develop yet from the fruit packed into these young wines.
It is literally like watching a flower bloom. Try a glass before, then decant your bottle and leave for a few hours (you can swirl it around in the decanter as there will be no sediment). Try it with any wine you buy. It’s truly unbelievable.
White wines should be treated in the same way as reds. It is the same principal as you are allowing the flavours to develop through aeration. It might feel strange to ask for a decanter in a restaurant or to put this on your table at a dinner party, but please do try it and see the difference it makes. Just remember that it’s correct to serve white wine around 10 degrees so by decanting it you also won’t over chill the wine and will be setting the flavours free!
Port- only vintage port needs decanting. It is untrue that all port does. This is because vintage port will have crusty sediment from years of developing in the bottle. But don’t decant it and then leave it in until next year in the cabinet….it has to be drunk. Well, it’s not as if you need an excuse to have a Port evening!
What should you do it you can’t get your hands on a decanter, if you are in a bar or someone’s home who doesn’t own one? In these situations, you can still aerate your wine in the glass. Pour a glass and leave it for a while, swirling now and again before you drink it. This helps to expose more surface area of the wine to oxygen and develop the flavours.
Funnily enough, talking of surface area exposure, opening a bottle of wine and leaving it to ‘breathe’ makes no difference at all!! This is because there is such a tiny amount of wine in contact with the air- the size of a ten pence piece?! I have no idea why some sommeliers or wine waiters still do this. Now you know what effect decanting has, please spread the word!
Don’t be embarrassed to ask for your wine to be decanted in a restaurant, especially if you are not offered one. Remember, it’s your wine and you can drink it how you like, even if it doesn’t make a difference, at least you knew enough to try.
Experimenting and having confidence in your wine drinking and decision making, is what Wine Angel is all about! Also, don’t just think decanting is for medium to high priced wines- try it with any wine you buy to see a marked difference.
So remember, old wines need less time in the decanter than young wines, and red and white wines can both benefit from decanting. Give it a go and test some out.
So in answer to my question- ‘To decant or not to decant’- a firm, resounding yes! We should all own one- and use it regularly!