I’m sure lots of you have seen it, and many done it as well – decanting! As portrayed in movies and television, it looks like a fairly pretentious undertaking. The same can be said about how it is treated in restaurants, with the option of using a candle, sterling silver funnel and even strange mechanical bottle holders!
But as I made my way through a Barolo tasting yesterday, it occurred to me that decanting is important as long as it is done at the right time (and for the right reasons).
But first – what is decanting anyway? Well, put simply, it is the process of pouring wine from a bottle into another (usually glass) container.
And why do it? Well, that’s where the problems begin!
There are lots of reasons for decanting, and far be it for me to judge which ones are right and which are wrong. But here are a few to think about.
First, if you have a nice looking decanter, it looks great on the table for your guests; and there is nothing wrong with that!
Next, from a more scientific point of view, the exposure of red wine (and it is only red wine you need to decant) to air can help with both the aroma and taste. The chemical reaction that occurs over time can “soften” young red wines, including those mouth-puckering tannins. An hour or two before dinner, and the wine can really start to come around!
But the main reason I decant red wine is if it is old enough to have deposited some sediment. Many red wines, as they age, do that, and it is often a sign of a good, well stored wine. Now, there is nothing wrong with the deposits, but they don’t look very nice in your glass or feel/taste very good in your mouth (kind of like getting a mouthful of sand).
So a decanter – along with a funnel or simply a very steady hand – can allow you to pour the wine until the deposit just starts to leave the bottle, at which point you stop. Done correctly (and it isn’t that hard), the result is a decanter full of wine that you can then pour for guests without the fear of giving them a big glop (a technical term) of tannin in their glass (and potentially in their mouth).
Which, getting back to the tasting last night, is what winery owner should have done at the Barolo tasting! The 2011 and 2010 vintages were ferociously tannic, and could easily have benefited from 2 – 3+ hours of airing in a decanter. But the 2001 and 1999 versions definitely needed the deposit removed (as I found out upon my first sip…it wasn’t a pleasant experience).
How do you know if you need to decant? Well, if the bottle has been stored on its side, check out the neck…if you see a deposit coating the inside, then decanting is probably a good idea.
And what to use? Anything really…from a simple glass jug to the most expensive crystal decanter. It doesn’t really matter.
So there you go…next time you are serving either very young – or very old, if you are lucky – red wine, think about decanting it first. You will be surprised how easy it is to do, and how much you will enjoy the results.