Decanting can broaden the character of many fine wines. Here’s what you need to know.
A crystal decanter can add a luxurious touch to an elegant table or a snuggly supper for two. Although a wine decanter showcases a wine’s deep, velvety hues, its role serves a more important function than aesthetics. Most wines don’t need to be decanted, but they often benefit from aeration. Decanters improve the flavor of wine and prevent you from getting a mouthful of stem, seed, and pulp sediment. We love them for any occasion - filled with orange juice for Sunday morning brunch or on a guest’s nightstand filled with water. Fine wine or water, there’s reason enough to start your own collection.
Don’t let the decanting process intimidate you. Follow these suggestions, and you’ll know how to pick the best decanter and what to do with each wine.
CHOOSING A DECANTER
There are many styles available when choosing a decanter. (We recommend a few favorites below.) Be careful when choosing cut, etched, or painted designs, which are attractive but may obstruct the view. Also consider your stemware and china - choose a style that works with your tabletop. Wide-neck decanters allow more air in and aerate the wine faster than thinner-necked designs. However, older wines don’t need as much exposure to oxygen, so some sommeliers suggest using the thin-neck variations. Before making your purchase, hold the decanter to see how it feels in your hands; make sure you’re comfortable with the shape and weight of the vessel while you pour. If necessary, ask a salesperson to allow you to test it with water.
HIP TIP: Never fill a decanter to the brim. It might look half-full, but the space is needed for aeration. Large decanters are available for magnum bottles.
THE PROS & CONS OF DECANTING WINE
Young: The benefits of decanting young wines are widely debated. Some prefer to let the wine aerate in the glass, allowing the subtle flavors to be slowly revealed throughout the evening. If you choose to avoid this step, it’s important to note that the characteristics of the wine in the bottle will be different than the last sip from your glass. To ensure a more consistent pour, decanting is suggested. Remember, the bigger the splash, the better when decanting young wine. Turn the bottle upside down and let it bubble and foam; this helps integrate oxygen. Don’t worry about sediment - most new-world wines are already clarified. Let the wine sit for at least 20-30 minutes before serving. As an experiment, taste the wine right out of the bottle, again after 20 minutes in the decanter, and at various time intervals throughout the night. Note the changing aromas and characteristics with each tasting.
Inexpensive: Make a $10 bottle of wine taste like a $20 bottle. Inexpensive wines benefit from decanting, but use caution with lighter-style reds such as a Pinot Noir or Beaujolais. Too much aeration could spoil the wine.
Older: This is trickier because you have to be methodical. If you have time, set the bottle upright for a day or two before serving. The sediment will collect at the bottom, making it easier to see while pouring into a vessel. Before pouring remove the foil in its entirety for a clear view of the neck. Wipe the bottle with a cloth to remove any cork residue then pour, watching the neck for sediment. If you don’t know which wine you’ll be drinking two days ahead of time, you have a few extra steps to follow. Set the unopened bottle upright for at least 30 minutes. Remove cork and foil casing. Place a light source - a candle or flashlight- behind the bottle neck. Slowly pour the wine into the decanter while carefully watching to see when the sediment begins to make its way to the neck. Once the sediment starts to collect there, stop pouring. Filter the remaining wine into a separate glass with cheesecloth or a coffee filter. (Wine cradles are available to help make this process easier for you and they cost around $75. Affordable wine-decanting funnels are also available.) Serve older wines immediately.
Vintage port: Give the bottle a good swirl before opening to loosen any sediment that is sticking to the bottle. Vintage ports should be filtered, but do not need any added exposure to oxygen.
HIP TIP: Make sure to rinse the crystal if it’s been in the cupboard for a while. Musty odors and dust may affect the wine’s flavor.
D Home Recommends >>
Ravenscroft Duck Decanter ($79.95) Wine Market & More. 3858 Oak Lawn, Ste. 165. 214.219.6758. www.thewinemarketandmore.com. >>