To decant or not to decant ….Hamlet’s real question
A lot of people ask me the question, “ when and why should I decant a bottle of wine”? There seems to be many misconceptions about this powerful yet dangerous tool so let’s take a look at all the ins and outs.
What is a decanter?
A decanter is a container that is used to hold a liquid such as wine which may contain sediment. Decanters are also used as serving vessels for wine. Decanters vary in shape and design. They are usually made of an inert material such as glass and will hold at least one standard bottle of wine (0.75 litre). A similar kind of vessel, the carafe which is also used for serving wine and other drinks. The main difference is that a carafe doesn’t have a stopper.
Why do we use a decanter?
Decantation is a process for the separation of mixtures. This is achieved by carefully pouring wine from a bottle into a decanter in order to leave the precipitate (sediments) in the bottom of the wine bottle. This keeps the sediment out of your glass.
Aeration is another reason for decanting to help let the wine “breathe”. The decanter is meant to mimic the effects of swirling the wine glass to stimulate the movement of molecules in the wine to trigger the release of more aroma compounds. In addition it is thought to benefit the wine by smoothing some of the harsher aspects of the wine like tannins or potential wine faults.
Often we would recommend decanting young wines as immature bottles may exhibit excess amounts of tannins and high levels of alcohol. Decanting helps to trim those aspects and create a wine that is more balanced and pleasing to the palate. Please be cautious however when using systems like “double decanting” (pouring wine from one decanter in to another to speed up the process) as this can seriously harm the wine and leave you with a “fruit-less and acidic disaster”. That is unless of course you are trying to create a high end Red Wine Vinegar…no seriously, you can buy it in the store for way less…..
Which wines should I decant?
Old World – Bordeaux, Rhone, Super Tuscans, Barolo’s and Barbaresco’s
New World – High End California Cabernet and Shiraz, Meritage, High End Chile and Australia. In the new world you can usually use cost as a guide; wine that costs over $35 usually benefits from decanting.
Which wines should I not decant?
Old World – Burgundy Reds, Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, Chianti, and generic $10-25 new world Cabernets, which would only leave you with the woody, oaky taste.
99% of the world’s white wine should not be decanted but if you splurge on Grand Cru Burgundy Whites or Rhones White Hermitage, give it time to open up and it will change your world forever.
Remember, at the end of the day have fun and explore, don’t be afraid to try new things and simply learn from your mistakes.
Blog by: Otta Zapotocky, General Manager and Sommelier at Wildfire Steakhouse and Wine Bar