Many friends ask me whether they should decant a wine before they drink it and in almost every instance, I say yes.
There is no particular mystery to decanting. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as to “Gradually pour (wine, port, or another liquid) from one container into another, typically in order to separate out sediment.” And it really is that simple.
Slowly and carefully decanting a wine ensures that any sediment stays in the bottle and you get a clear and more brilliant wine in the decanter. Often older, fully mature wines will have shed their cloak of tannin to form a sediment. As you approach the last two centimetres of wine in a bottle, you begin to notice any dregs lying in wait. This is the time to stop pouring the wine into the decanter.
In general, a younger red wine can be poured less gently than an older wine, as it is unlikely to contain any sediment and the purpose of decanting is rather to aerate the wine and open up the aromas and flavours.
Once in the decanter, depending on the age of the wine, I would recommend giving the wine 60 minutes, on average, to breathe. This helps bring out the complexity of the wine, as well as softening it.
You can also double decant; this is when the bottle is rinsed out and the wine poured back in. This allows the original bottle with its label to be shown on the table and is common practice at Goedhuis & Co when presenting fine wines to our clients at tastings or dinners.
The only time I advise not decanting is with a very old and fragile wine, when sometimes the swift exposure to air will shock the wine, leaving it hollow. In this case I would recommend serving it from bottle as soon as you pop the cork, rather than pouring it in to a decanter.
Remember, decanting wine is not just for red wine. Many good white wines would also benefit from a bit of aeration in a decanter. As a general rule, the better the quality and the younger the white wine, the greater the potential benefit of decanting in order to allow the wine to show at its very best.
A decanted wine will always give you and your friends a sense of occasion, making even an ordinary wine seem special. Lastly, if you don’t have a decanter then a jug will do the job just as well!
A decanter would make a perfect Christmas present and be put to plenty of use over the festive season. Here are three of my favourite decanters:
1. Iona Ships Decanter from the extremely talented William Yeoward
2. Zalto Axium Single Bottle Decanter
This hand-blown and dishwasher-friendly crystal decanter from Zalto is an elegant choice.
3. Riedel Decanter O Magnum
The ultimate luxury for special occasions is a magnum decanter, such as this beautiful handmade decanter from Riedel.