Wine & Spirits

Wine & spirits: Divine decanting

Wine & spirits: Divine decanting Author: Style At Home

Wine & Spirits

Wine & spirits: Divine decanting

"Wine needs to breathe.” You hear that exaggeration from wine preachers all the time. Sommeliers in fancy restaurants, salespeople in liquor stores and know-it-all friends who read the weekend wine column in the newspaper all insist that your wine would taste better if only it had a chance to breathe. “Just open the bottle an hour beforehand!” Wine can no more breathe through the narrow neck of a bottle than I can sleep with bedsheets pulled up over my head. For air to have any significant effect, the wine must be decanted.

Decanting is a high-falutin word for pouring wine from one bottle into another. Ninety per cent of commercially made wine tastes fine straight from the bottle (just don't let the paper bag touch your lips!). Nine of the remaining 10 per cent might benefit from a little B2B (bottle to bottle) action, while less than one per cent truly needs it. To check, hold the bottle up to the light; if there's any sediment inside, decant. With extended aging, classic red wines like Barolo, Bordeaux, Burgundy and vintage port deposit their bitter tannins at the base of the bottle. Proper decanting, a finicky but rewarding process, separates the sediment from the wine.

Sometimes it's a good idea to decant a very young wine with no sediment. Reds with tough, mouth-puckering flavours can benefit from aeration to reduce astringency and bring out more of the fruit taste. It's best done “violently” by upending a bottle into a wide-mouth decanter and sloshing the contents into it. If the wine still tastes tough, do it again.

How to decant an old wine
Aged wines need to be decanted gently to avoid getting bitter sediment in your glass.

1 Stand the bottle upright for several hours so that all the sediment falls to the bottom. Wash and dry a decanter, which can be a simple glass pitcher or even another glass bottle; size and shape don't matter.

2 To open the bottle remove the seal and clean the top of the wine bottle. If there's mould or gunk, remove it with a Brillo pad, then wipe with a wet cloth, followed by a dry one. If it's sticky, use a wet and then dry cloth.

3 Remove the cork from the bottle with great care to avoid disturbing the sediment. Light a candle or stand a strong flashlight on the counter and turn off any overhead lights.

4 Position the candle flame or light so that it shines through the bottle and slowly, in one continuous motion, pour the wine into the decanter, stopping just before any sediment goes in.

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Wine & Spirits

Wine & spirits: Divine decanting