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Decanting Wine: How And Why To Decant Wine
To decant a wine is to pour it from the bottle into a wide-bodied clear glass vessel. Decanting a full-bodied red wine before serving accomplishes three things: First, it allows the wine to breathe. Second, it removes any sediment in the wine. Third, it heightens the anticipation of the wine by displaying it and allowing just a breath of its aroma to escape into the room.
To preserve its quality, wine is bottled with as little air in the bottle as possible. However, when it comes time to open the bottle and enjoy the wine, all the sulfites that helped preserve the wine now work against its taste. Aerating the wine oxidizes the sulfites, creating the taste perception of softer tannins and smoothing out any wine faults such as mercaptans. With their wide bodies and narrow necks, decanters are designed to maximize the amount of wine exposed to air.
Tannins gradually precipitate out of wine over time, leaving behind thick sediment. The more tannic the wine, the more sediment accumulates at the bottom of older bottles. The sediment is harmless, and the steady removal of the tannin improves the taste of a full-bodied wine. However, you don’t want that sediment to end up at the bottom of your wine glass. Carefully pouring the wine into a decanter leaves behind any sediment in the wine bottle.
To decant wine, open the wine bottle and pour it slowly into the decanter from a few inches above the opening of the decanter. If the bottle of wine has been correctly stored on its side, you may wish to let it stand upright for an hour or more before opening to let the sediment sink to the bottom, longer if the bottle is an old one.
The reason for storing wine bottles on their side is to maintain a good seal by keeping the cork saturated with wine. Corks that dry out shrink and allow air to enter the bottle before it is opened, not a good thing for the wine.
Pour carefully in order to leave any sediment behind in the bottle. Keep pouring until sediment becomes visible in the neck of the bottle. For older wines, this often means not emptying the full bottle. Wines heavy in sediment may also be filtered through cheesecloth to remove the sediment. Wines made using modern winemaking techniques have much less sediment for their age than older wines.
Never fill a decanter all the way up to the neck. The most common size of the decanter is designed so that a single bottle of wine will fill its body about halfway; that way, much of the wine is directly exposed to air. Let younger wines breathe in the decanter for an hour or two before serving.
Low-tannin wines and young, light reds won’t benefit much from being decanted, if at all. Most white and sparkling wines are best served directly from a chilled bottle, immediately after it is opened. Delicate wines such as Pinot Noir or Chianti can even be damaged by decanting.
While filtering and aerating a full-bodied wine will improve its flavor, letting it stay in contact with air indefinitely will turn any wine to vinegar. To best preserve the taste of your wine, decant only what you will consume in the course of the evening. The older the wine, the less time you will have in which to drink it before it becomes undrinkable. With the oldest wines, you may have only half an hour.
Stopper the decanter whenever you are not pouring from it, confining the aroma until you are ready to pour the next glass. After all the wine from the decanter has been enjoyed, be sure to wash the decanter thoroughly to prevent cross-contamination.