How & Why You Decant Wine

Stuart Brown
Author – Stuart Brown

Decanting wine

For the majority of the wines we drink at home, serving is simple: gather the correct number of receptacles, crack open the bottle, pour and enjoy. Repeat the pouring and enjoying until the bottle is empty. Job done. However, on occasion you’ll have a special bottle on the menu, and you’ll be advised to decant it before drinking. So, what is decanting, why do we do it and when?

What is decanting?

Decanting, by definition, is to pour a liquid, in this case wine or port, from its bottle into another container to separate out sediment and expose the wine to oxygen, allowing it to ‘open up’. The wine decanters you can buy are varied in size and style but they all serve the same purpose – to allow a wine to fully express itself.

Why decant wine?

After 5 plus years in the bottle it’s safe to assume that a red wine or port will have some sediment in the bottle. Naturally made (hand-crafted / boutique) wine can have sediment in the bottle from day one.

Too much sediment is a problem sign, but we get a few phone calls every week from customers complaining that their wine had sediment in the bottle and it’s a common misconception that sediment is a bad thing. I’ve been taught that if you find sediment in your wine, then chances are it’s there on purpose and it’s safe to swallow, but its good practice to decant the wine and take the sediment out of the equation.

Aside from removing the sediment, decanting revitalises and invigorates a wine. If you think a wine is unexpressive when you first taste it – it’s worth decanting it to see if it makes a difference. It can’t hurt to try.

And it’s worth noting that a wine doesn’t need to be “old” or have sediment to benefit from an oxygen boost. A young fresh Aussie Shiraz won’t need decanting, but there’s no harm in aerating it to allow the aromas to lift and the flavours to awaken.

When to decant wine?

If you got a bottle of something special, maybe a wine that you’ve cellared for a number of years then it can’t hurt to decant. There are a lot of different theories on how best to decant. However the debate on best practices won’t be resolved soon. But here are the rules I follow, based on my conversations at VWHQ.

Old fragile wines, aged for 15 years or more, should only be decanted for around 30 minutes prior to serving. Younger wines can be decanted for a little longer, and very recent vintages can be decanted a couple of hours before serving. Whatever the age of the wine, I tend to decant half an hour before serving.

How to decant a wine in simple steps:

  1. The day before – stand the bottle upright. This allows the sediment time to sink to the bottom of the bottle.
  2. Pour the wine into the decanter slowly and steadily. Having a light source behind the bottle will help you see any sediment.
  3. About half way through the bottle, pour even slower.
  4. Stop pouring as soon as you see sediment reach the neck of the bottle.
  5. After half an hour, the wine will be ready. Discard the remaining drips of sediment-filled wine in the bottle and get drinking!

Other methods

There’s what Jay, our CEO, calls the “Jukes method”. If it’s good enough for Matthew then it’s good enough for me. Simply pour your wine carefully into a container, discard the sediment down the sink. Then carefully pour the wine back into the bottle. The process will have aerated your wine sufficiently. Now you don’t have to worry about cleaning your decanter.

Another method is to use an aerator – a device that sits above your wine glass. Pour directly from the bottle, through the aerator into the wine glass. The wine is now filtered, aerated and ready to drink right away.

Well, that’s it for this post. We’d love to hear if you’ve got any interesting methods you use yourself at home.

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