DecanterDo You Decant?
Someone recently told me he thought decanting must be out of fashion, as antiques markets seem to be full of old decanters that no-one wants. So is decanting a thing of the past; a dark art, practised only in stuffy old Gentlemen’s Clubs? Absolutely not!
Read on and find out why you should be decanting.

What is the Purpose of Decanting?
In a nutshell, there are two main reasons for decanting:

  1. To separate out any unwanted sedimentary deposits which have formed naturally in the bottle.
  2. To allow the wine to ‘breath’.  Breathing simply means bringing the wine into contact with Oxygen so that it can react with it and form more complex aromas and flavours.  This is the same reason that we swirl wine in the glass or draw air through it, in our mouth.  The surface area of wine exposed to the air in a decanter is considerably larger than in a glass and will allow this process to work more effectively.

So When Should I Decant?
For a younger wine, try decanting if you think a wine is being opened ahead of its optimum drinking age. Decanting often benefits younger fine wines the most, as the subtle oxidation of resting in a decanter for a few hours can help to soften youthfully firm tannins and release aromas that may otherwise remain subdued.

For an older wine, I would caution against automatic decanting; there is a risk that a very mature wine that is decanted will be exposed to too much Oxygen, too quickly, thereby accelerating its deterioration. My preference is to stand the bottle up for 24-48 hours prior to opening, to settle any fine deposits.  Having then pulled the cork, I will check the nose and taste a sip, well in advance of the time I intend to serve. This gives me the chance to evaluate the maturity of the wine and assess whether there is any benefit to be had from decanting. If the wine is a little muted or still shows vigorous tannins, I’ll decant.  On the other hand, if it appears to be fully expressive and pleasurable, I’ll put the cork back in and either serve from the bottle or leave decanting until immediately prior to serving.  This method also avoids any embarrassing moments with cork-tainted wines when you’re pouring and it’s too late to substitute a different bottle.