I’ve been a bad girl. Not in the Fifty Shades way but as a wine student. Lately, I’ve found myself simply popping a cork and pouring my reds just in the glass. No decanting, no mandatory two hour plus wait time. Sometimes, I aerate but not every time. Most aficionados would slap my wrist (ooh!) and tell me that by not decanting, or at least aerating, my wine is not all that it could be. And they’d be right. So I dusted off my crystal decanter and became very curious about decanting and why it’s important.
Historically, decanters were important because most wines weren’t filtered prior to entering the bottle, sediment was more prevalent and needed to be separated out before drinking. Wine drinkers of yore probably didn’t want crunchy bits in the wine they sipped. Who would?
Decantation is used for the separation and transfer of mixtures. Especially consequential with reds, the wine is separated from sediments or crystals that are a natural component of aging. Another benefit is the removal of any unwanted bitterness and pungent flavors. A certain amount of oxygenation will happen with the transfer from bottle to decanter but it isn’t the same as aeration, which intertwines oxygen into the wine to improve the taste. I’ll write more about aeration in my next post.
Decanting can be applied to white wine but it isn’t as necessary as decanting reds, especially those aged 5+ years that require more delicacy when serving. There usually isn’t as much sediment in younger wines but they can benefit greatly from decanting by enhancement of the flavours, bouquet, and by bringing the character into full effect.
Slow and steady ~ the art of the pour
As important as the decanter is, the way in which wine is poured matters. I’m sure that even doing the quick pour can provide some of the required oxygenation, it might not leave the all sediment out. The slower pour is more deliberate and accurate. And don’t forget, you want to hit that sweet spot, or the curve of the decanter, for maximum distribution.
Joseph Nase from New York Magazine recommends decanting all wines, even whites and that younger wines can be poured directly into the decanter and left to sit for as short a time as 20 minutes. But if you want to do it the old school way you’ll need two items, as well as the wine:
- a wine cradle
- a light source such as a flashlight or candle(very old school and romantic)
- place wine in the cradle and carefully open the bottle ~ Nase says if the mouth stays above the level of liquid it shouldn’t spill
- begin to rotate the cradle and slowly pour wine into the decanter while shining the light on the neck of the bottle ~ you should see sediment begin to creep up the neck
- stop pouring! At this point, the wine in the decanter should be clean and clear
An easier approach involves using a wine funnel and sieve.
- Insert funnel with sieve into the decanter
- pour and let stand
The sieve will take care of any sediment and bits of cork that may have found their way into the bottle. The funnel is usually shaped with a gentle curve to cascade the wine towards the sweet spot of the decanter. The slower the pour, the more oxygenation and the better the release of the flavors and character of the wine. You can also swirl the wine inside the decanter to provide more aeration before serving.
Keeping it Clean:
Don’t use detergent. The design of most decanters makes it very difficult to rinse away the residue. And any that remains may effect the taste of the next vintage you pour into it. You pay enough for a good bottle and don’t want it tainted with soapy residue. Ew.
All you need is some coarse sea salt (I’ve used fine equally well) and crushed ice. Place both in the decanter and shake (or swirl) until it’s clean.
Decanters come in myriad shapes, styles and colors from the classic to the bizarre. I once saw one that had the unfortunate shape of a hand-held urinal, so I just couldn’t buy it. It’s usually recommended that clear crystal or glass is best, that way you can see the color and clarity, but the choice is up to you.
Wine is a thing of beauty and meant to be enjoyed at a slower pace, not rushed through. Part of the experience is the presentation of your chosen wine, slowly poured and displayed in a decanter that reflects your individual taste and style.