To Decant or not Decant…

“To Decant” definition: To slowly transfer the contents of a bottle into a different container (with the aim of not disturbing any sediment that may exist in the said bottle).

Why Decant?

Most of us probably don’t even consider getting the decanter out unless we have a particularly expensive or older bottle being opened.  But there are some good reasons why it is a good idea particularly for older red wine, Vintage/unfiltered LBV Ports and even for good young red, white and rosé wines (note – Don’t ever decant Sparkling!):

  • It aerates the wine. Most wines are liberally doused in SO2 before bottling and exist in a reductive (ie no oxygen) state until opening – which may be quite a while with old wines. By decanting the wine it allows a little bit of air into the wine which is hugely beneficial.  

You may have come across the word ‘closed’ when you hear people talk about wine, this is a wine that doesn’t have any flavour, seems dull, muted and flat.  By aerating it  you allow the wine to ‘breathe’ and release many of its aromas and flavours better, as well as softening the tannins. 

  • It reduces the sediment from the bottle getting into your glass. I should stress, this sediment is harmless, it’s just pretty unpleasant to the taste.
  • In the event of a cork mishap. I’d suggest definitely using something to strain the wine with while decanting if the cork has totally broken up, to save having to slurp on any pesky pieces of broken cork.

What is this sediment?

In short, it’s usually only found in old red wines, Vintage Ports, or in wines that haven’t been stabilised (ie fined or filtered) prior to bottling. Essentially it is made up of a combination of old yeast cells, colour molecules and tannin molecules  that have dropped out of solution over time – they are harmless but taste very bitter.  Sometimes you might also see little clear crystals – these are  tartrate crystals and are also completely harmless.

Remember to keep a close eye on the wine as you pour, any sign of sediment approaching the neck of the bottle, stop, let it drop back and then continue pouring slowly.  Leave the dregs in the bottle. 

Top tip! should you be an impatient pourer and end up tipping the whole lot in, don’t panic, just repour it (more carefully!) our use a funnel and sieve that should remove the unwanted bits!  

How long before I want to drink it should I decant?

Younger wines are more stable, so would happily take a couple of hours in a decanter before drinking. You need to be more careful with older wines as they are generally more fragile – just decant prior to drinking.  If a wine needs more air, just double decant ie back into the bottle and out again into the decanter/jug.  

Remember though, too much air can be a bad thing, particularly for really old wines so take care.

Top Tip! Just opening the bottle doesn’t aerate it! Why?  Because only a very small area of the wine is actually exposed to the air!

You don’t need to invest in a swanky “all singing all dancing” decanter – in fact you don’t need a decanter at all, simply slowly pouring the wine into a glass jug is absolutely fine.  A funnel (with a sieve if there is a lot of obvious sediment or cork detritus) and a jug would work equally effectively! After all the result is the same, it aerates and removes any unwanted sediment.


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