Many wine lovers have heard of a wine decanter but aren’t entirely sure about its purpose. You might think wine decanters are the domain of wine snobs and sommeliers, but these instruments for serving wine could take your wine tasting and drink to next-level status. Let us overview what a wine decanter is and the procedure called decantation.
What is a wine decanter?
A wine decanter's primary purpose is to store and serve wine and allow it to breathe. An adequate surface area exposed to air is crucial to the oxygenating process.
Sediment and crumbled cork are often found in red wines. Pouring into a decanter can help to filter and remove any unwanted residue. In addition, it will eliminate the bitter taste and flavour associated with aged wines.
Traditionally, wine decanters have a flat bottom and a wide bowl (up to 30cm). In general, the neck tapers inwards to an approximate height of 30 cm. Their volume is usually equivalent to one standard bottle of wine (0.75 litres).
The purpose of using a wine decanter
The first reason to decant wine is to aerate it. While not every wine needs decanting, some young wines may be closed or tight on the nose or palate. The purpose of decanting is to give the wine a chance to breathe. Oxygen is introduced to it either by transferring the wine into the decanter or a glass and left on the counter for a few hours.
Slowly pouring the wine into a decanter lets it absorb oxygen, opening up the aromas and flavours. Furthermore, decanting separates the wine from the sediment, which not only would not look pretty in your glass but would also make the wine taste more astringent. Carefully decanting the wine ensures that the sediment stays in the bottle, and you get an excellent clear wine in the decanter and subsequently in your glass.
When to use a wine decanter
Now that we have established the purpose of decanting, when and for how long should you do it? When you serve the wine, you decant it. Although there is debate about how long this will take, there is no absolute answer to this question. Decanting your wine for an extended period of time can cause the aromas and flavours to oxidise and dissipate. Additionally, wine evaporates more oxygen when swirled from the glass, so keeping it in a decanter for too long will simply make the wine fade.
In addition, we should remember that not all wines are created equal. More full-bodied and young wines may need more time to be decanted, about an hour before serving. The reason is that young wines have less complexity since they have not aged as long, so they require more time to breathe. Meanwhile, some wine experts suggest decanting wines older than ten years for no more than 25 minutes before consumption. Since they have already aged for a long time and the focus is on separating sediments, they need less time to decant. Experts recommend that after decanting, the wine be returned to the bottle and the air removed with a wine bottle vacuum pump so it can be stored for a few days.
How to use a wine decanter
Ensure that the bottle is upright for 24 hours or more before drinking, so the sediment can settle to the bottom, making it easier to separate.
There are two main ways to decant wine, depending on what kind of wine you are decanting: regular decanting and shock decanting.
Regular decanting involves pouring the wine slowly into the decanter. You can either keep the decanter on a table and pour the wine in or hold the decanter in one hand and pour it with the other. Regardless of the method used, pouring slowly helps older wines maintain their structure and colour.
Regular decanting also allows the pourer to spot sediment. The best way to spot sediment is to keep a match or lit lighter under the bottle's neck and start pouring very slowly. Once the wine lighted by the flame appears dusty, cloudy, you’re done. The process of pouring the wine into the decanter allows you to see the sediment.
With shock decanting, also known as quick splash decanting, the bottle of wine is tilted vertically and poured by gravity into a decanter sitting or being held vertically. Shock decantation won't help you isolate the sediment though. When the wine falls to the bottom of the decanter with force, it splashes off the bottom and swirls around. This method is meant to vigorously expose the wine to oxygen and further accelerate aeration. This is best for young, tannic red wines that haven’t been aged for long. Typically less than two years.
Wine decanter types: how to choose one
The best decanter for wines is circular because it allows the air inside to move freely. A wide neck will allow more air to enter in the shortest amount of time. Decanters with shorter necks and larger bowls also work faster because they achieve their purpose in a shorter amount of time. In an hour or less, a good decanter should have aerated the wine, softened the tannins, released the aromas, and separated the sediments from the bottom of the bottle of wine. However, some wine experts recommend decanting wine for at least two hours.
Note that the type of red wine you are drinking can also affect the type of decanter you need. A small decanter is enough for light-bodied red, rose, and white wines. Light-bodied wines such as Pinot Noir and Beaujolais benefit from decanting after only about 30 minutes. On the other hand, some wines will take longer to oxygenate than others. For example, full-bodied red wines with high tannin (the astringent, mouth-drying sensation) generally need more time in a decanter. To speed this process up, choose a decanter with a wide base to increase the amount of oxygen exposure to the wine.
Decanter for red wines
Large bowl decanters are the best choice when serving old red wines, depending on the style.
For full-bodied wines like Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon, a large-bowled decanter will provide more surface area for the aeration.
The air can move more freely through a medium-sized decanter for medium-bodied wines. Among the wines that can be served in the medium decanter are Merlot, Sangiovese, Dolcetti, and Grenache.
Decanter for white wines
Decanting white wines is easier than red wines. Although it's fine to decant into any vessel, smaller decanters are better for white wines. Usually, white wines do not contain sediment, so decanting is unlikely to ruin them.