Decanting wine: when, why and how
Decant: it isn't always necessary, it needs time and makes the wine, and especially its aromas, clearer.
When and why decant a wine?
Usually, you may want to decant a wine to:
- Let wine sediments get separated into bottles kept for long in the cellar. Here gravity is working for us: sediments are heavier, and so after some time they will deposit on the bottom of the decanter after we moved them by taking the bottle from the rack. Sediments are usually contained in non-filtered wines or are the result of aging.
- Let wines open up and release aromas and scents that would otherwise remain closed. From a chemical point of view in wines, there are acids, esters, and hydrocarbon molecules that "react" (bind, to be more accurate) quickly with oxygen.
In other words, it's through this reaction that the wine develops its aromas.
These two simple pieces of information give us some hints on when will it be useful to decant a wine:
- Definitely to be decanted are structured, full-bodied red wines that have been aged in the wood. These are the wines that are more suitable to be aged and therefore are mostly chosen to celebrate important life events.
- Young or medium-aged red wines, which obviously have no sediment, should be decanted. The contact with the air allows them to open up and release aromas and scents.
White wines, instead, even if they have been aged in wood, generally do not need to be decanted; it is sufficient to open the bottle in advance to allow the wine to air out.Sparkling wines, or wines made using the classic method (such as Champagne), should not be decanted because they would lose one of their main special feature: the bubbles.
How to decant wine?
Wine can be decanted in two ways:
- Either by simply uncorking the bottle and leaving it open for a while, long enough for the wine to develop all its aromas;
- Or by transferring the wine into a decanter, which is a transparent glass container with a narrow neck and a wide bottom. This peculiar shape increases the surface area of contact between the wine and the air, and therefore the oxygenation. Moreover, using a decanter you can serve the wine, avoiding transferring unwanted sediments in the glass.
Here are the fundamentals, to employ a decanter:
- Place the bottle upright for a few hours so that any sediment settles on the bottom;
- Uncork the wine.
In the case of very old wines, carefully wipe the neck of the bottle with a cloth. This prevents dust or bacteria from being transferred into the wine.
- Decant the wine slowly from the bottle into the decanter.
When you begin to see sediment in the neck of the bottle, you better stop so as not to risk having it back in the glass and affect the brilliance of the wine. Professional sommeliers help themselves with a candle or a light, which is placed under the bottle during decanting, precisely to control the deposit and stop decanting at the right moment.
- Leave the wine in the decanter for some time, and then serve it.
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It's very interesting to think for a moment about the meaning of the word "to decant".
At least, in Italian, it has two interpretations and a double etymology: in one case it literally means “to put aside” and it reflects exactly what happens from a physical-chemistry point of view, as we said. In the other case, the significance is related to “read out singing”. It comes from a far-way time, but without a doubt, it brings along a sense of irony.
Decanting wine is technically useful, enjoy it by drinking good wine that has had the chance of expressing itself at the best is a great idea, yet overdoing by decanting them with pretentious definitions is just odd.
So, let's just enjoy wines! 😉
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