Why use a wine decanter?
Everyone has one hiding in the back of the pantry, right? That wedding present used three or four times and is now gathering dust. Despite its fall from fashion over the last 10 years or so, a wine decanter does serve a purpose and can improve the overall experience of your wine consumption. So, in the spirit of bringing decanter usage back, here’s a guide about why and when to use this often-maligned piece of serving ware.
One of the places you may have seen a wine decanter pulled from the cupboard is at a wine bar or fine restaurant. When a diner is paying a lot of money for a bottle of red wine, a good waiter or sommelier will pay the bottle the respect it deserves by decanting the wine before consumption.
Why? Two reasons. First is the separation of the sediment from the wine. The sediment that develops over time in red wines is formed from tannins and tatrate crystals that gradually fall to the bottom of the bottle. This is good stuff! Sediment in a wine is a sign the wine has softened, as well as gaining character and complexity, but it’s hardly appealing to have these pieces of gunk floating in your wine glass. So it’s worth removing this residue to improve the taste experience of the wine, but it needs to be done carefully. And wine decanting is one of the easiest ways to do this.
Second reason is aeration or breathing of the wine. Aerating a young wine will make it far mellower and more rounded than it would be served straight from the bottle – not as mouth puckering. Aerating an old wine helps separate the sediment but also gives it exposure to oxygen, which in turn lifts the aromas from the wine. It gives wine the opportunity to express itself in its most open, intensified state.
It’s worth being mindful of the age of the wine as it may have already been aerated with time in bottle and in some instances, if you decant a wine that doesn’t need aeration, the flavours can be deadened and its best features dulled.
When decanting, slowly pour the wine into a decanter, a clean bottle or a similar-style vessel in a well-lit area. As you reach the final pour, look for sediment. When sediment reaches the neck, stop pouring. A portion of sediment will have made it into the decanter, but it’s better to stop pouring once you see it in clear sight. If you don’t have a decanter, simply rinse your original bottle and pour the wine back in for service.
It becomes tricky when you have a fine-quality aged red wine, like a classic Coonawarra Cabernet, for example, which will have a lot of sediment that could be separated by decanting but doesn’t warrant much aeration. The best option is to leave the wine to breathe in the bottle for a while, then take extra care when pouring it into the glass to avoid too much sediment.
If you’re unsure about the benefits of wine decanting, why not open a bottle and pour half into a decanting vessel and half into glasses straight from the bottle? And draw your own conclusion about whether it’s worth the effort!