There are many reasons to decant wine. Sure, decanters look appealing and may dazzle your guests, but they also have many practical functions. Decanters remove the heavy deposit precipitated during the bottle maturation process. This natural clarification technique of separating wine from the sediment renders the wine clear and pleasing to the eye and removes the deposit, which has bitter and astringent flavours.
The sediment, which accumulates in the bottle, is formed from tiny particles that bond together during maturation. Red wines with minimal filtration deposit heavy solids, as do vintage and crusted ports. However, if the red wine has undergone a comprehensive filtration process such as sterile filtration, it is likely to be a wine that will not improve with age and should be drunk within a few years from vintage. Before wine makers understood the process and value of clarification for early drinking styles, decanting was necessary for all bottles if your glass was to be void of sediment.
The key rationale for decanting is to promote aeration, allow the bouquet of the wine to evolve and open up and also minimize sediment which can be controlled by decanting. It is easy to either over decant or under decant since the correct amount of aeration that a particular wine needs varies by bottle, not just by wine and vintage. For example, young, ripe Bordeaux vintages will benefit from time in a decanter but generally should only be left for about two hours before serving. After this time the wine will not improve as significantly, though this depends on vintage and wine. Secondary characteristics detected in mature wines will not start to develop as the wine is still in its primary stages. In addition, the added challenge of ‘room temperature’ conditions throughout Asia, which are often too warm for even red wines, can mean that the wine sitting in a decanter for too long has surpassed its ideal serving temperature.
Finding ideal decanting times for different wine styles and vintages are acquired mainly through experience. Generally young, tannic wines will benefit from some amount of aeration, between one to two hours. A mature tannic red wine such as a Super Tuscan, can benefit from several hours of decanting since the tannins which have been tightly bound slowly loosen as it comes into contact with oxygen. Mature, low tannin delicate wines such as Grand Cru Burgundies rarely benefit from long decanting times since much of the bouquet and delicate aromatics are lost as soon as the wine comes into contact with air.
Aerating your wines
Once a wine reaches its peak expression after exposure to oxygen, its quality will start to decline. Therefore, it is better to error on the side of under decanting rather than over decanting. If the first glass poured expresses the wine at its peak, the last impression will likely be less enjoyable. One of the joys of enjoying fine wine is to observe and follow how the wine unfolds in the glass and evolves over several hours. The ideal wine glass with sufficient room to swirl the wine acts as a mini decanter and great wines will always express different aspects of its personality over a long period time in the glass. This pleasure is lost if the wine is opened too early. All fine wines should be treated as a delicate commodity and it is imperative to remember this when handling old wines as they are highly susceptible to oxidisation once aerated.
RANDY SEE’S TOP 5 TIPS FOR DECANTING & SERVING WINE.
Director of Operations for The Les Amis Group.
1. If you have a wine fridge at home, it is best to keep all wine styles between 12 to 15 degrees – that means whites, reds or sparkling. It is best to plan your drinking in advance, so the red wines can gradually reach the optimum drinking temperature. Do not ‘shock’ the wines by plunging reds into ice buckets or by placing them close to an oven.
2.When dining in a BYO restaurant send any mature wines in advance to allow the sediments to settle. Advise sommeliers to keep wines in a standing position until you arrive for dinner.
3.Do not decant too early. Allow the wines to naturally evolve to their optimum best in the wine glass, rather than ‘over decanting’ them and have them deteriorate too quickly.
4.Ensure decanter is dry and free from odour before decantation.
5.Do not use coffee filters even when the cork has plunged into the bottle. Try to extract the cork by using an elongated ‘claw’, which is readily available in some wine retailers. Coffee filters will impart a plastic like odour to the decanted wine.
Image credit: Libation Gear