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The Art of Decanting
Over the years, we’ve told ourselves simply by uncorking the bottle five minutes prior to drinking, we’re allowing the bottle to "breathe," therefore improving the wine. There is no point in using a second vessel; a decanter is simply a gimmick developed by the wine industry to get more of your hard-earned money out of your pocket. But next time you open a bottle of wine, look how much room there is in a bottle? How much oxygen can actually get in? Not much! Forget everything you thought you knew (that is unless you’re a sommelier or another kind of wine geek) and listen up to what we’re about to tell you.
For the average wine drinker, serving and drinking wine is a straightforward process: select random bottle from pantry, search for the bottle opener, struggle to remove the foil, battle to remove the cork, stretch into the cupboard for a wine glass, pour wine into glass and enjoy. But what if that logic is wrong?
Sometimes, that first sniff of wine is a bit harsh; it burns your nostrils and feels like fire as you swallow it. It doesn’t taste the same way that it did at the restaurant you purchased it from—there must be something wrong with this wine! What if we told you that prior to drinking that wine at the restaurant, they decanted it?
With the holidays coming up, we're spending more on wine than any other time of the year. If you happen to have purchased an expensive bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon to serve alongside your holiday meal, you don't want to risk serving an abrasive wine to your guests, do you?
Just to prove to our family and friends that decanting is beneficial, we opened a bottle of wine that we know, trust and love. The wine that wasn't decanted was more abrasive to smell and harsh, the decanted glass was smoother at the end, with a fruity bouquet at first sniff.
What Is Decanting?
Decanting simply means transferring the wine from the bottle into another vessel. You know that feeling when you walk into your house (or get into your car) after a long day of work and you kick off your stilettos and take that first, deep, relaxed breath? Wine decanting works the same way—you’re allowing the wine to breathe. Decanting your wine will give you a clean and clear glass of wine, with a beautiful bouquet.
What’s The Benefit?
You can improve cheap wine by removing some of the nasty sulfur compounds and you can make the tannins in expensive wines blend better with some of the other flavors in the wine.
Those of us who loved full-bodied red wines have been there: you look down into your glass and there’s sediment floating in your wine. Sometimes we tough it out and drink it, while other times we give it to our spouse to drink while we pour ourselves a (hopefully) clear glass of wine. By carefully and slowly decanting your wine, you are able to pour your clear wine into another vessel while keeping the sediment where it belongs—at the bottom of the bottle and out of your wine glass.
Which Wines Do I Decant?
Depending who you’re asking, you will get varying answers. Most reds will benefit from being decanted, with Pinot Noirs being questionable (though the Pinot Noir reviewed here was actually improved by decanting). Full-bodied whites, such as Chardonnay, White Burgundy and Viognier can benefit greatly from being decanted prior to drinking. Do not decant your sparkling wine or champagne, that’s just gross. Young wines will be improved dramatically; complex flavors will be enhanced. Decanting forces the wine to mix with oxygen, coercing it to develop and come to life at a quicker pace. Older wines (five years and beyond) like to collect sediment—if consumed, sediment can be harsh and bitter—very unenjoyable, thus ruining your glass of wine.
How Do I Decant Correctly?
Have you ever seen the trick that bartenders use when pouring your glass of beer or soda? They tilt the glass so you don’t get a glass full of foam. Tilting your decanter will help oxygenate the molecules in the wine as it bounces off the side of the decanter. We typically leave our wines in the decanter for about two hours prior to serving (the whites we stick back in the fridge; the reds will go in the fridge about 15-20 minutes prior to drinking—try it, your nose won’t burn!)
DO NOT decant in the blender! It pretty much immediately ruins your wine! (Yes, people have done that!)
Which Decanter Do I Buy?
Like many things in life, keep it simple. Sure, there are decanters available in all shapes and sizes, but keep in mind, some of those cooler, funky shapes are going to be a pain in the you- know-what to clean after using. You can simply use a glass pitcher (or even a vase), otherwise you can find affordable, easy to use (and clean) decanters at many home good stores.
What About Aerators?
Aerators for us lie somewhere in between awesome invention and pricy gimmick. Some wines can definitely be improved by being poured through an aerator directly into your glass while others find themselves being subdued by the method. It’s been our experience that wines such as Barbera, Syrah and cheap homemade wines were vastly improved with the use of an aerator, while our beloved Cabernet Sauvignon was hindered. So if you find yourself torn between purchasing a nice decanter or an aerator, go with the decanter.