Wine is all about enjoyment, but some of us novices to wine get caught up and confused in the technical jargon and sometimes haughty attitude that surrounds the industry. So let’s push all of that aside and get to enjoying wine shall we?
However, in order to do so, at times you need to decant or aerate a wine. The obvious question is then, when do you decant or aerate? While it's easy to tell if you have to aerate some wines, other wines are more subtle and discrete in their attributes that alarm the need for decanting. Before we get to those, let’s talk about why we decant.
Why Should Some Wines be Decanted?
Those of you who have a collection of wine know that there are various benefits to setting some wines aside for aging. You keep your wine so that it might present itself better or improve when you are ready to open it. While subjective to everyone based on preference, wines often taste better after aging. If the bottle is sealed with a cork, then there has been a process of semi-controlled oxygenation, as the cork allows for a very minute amount of oxygen to enter the bottle while it is aging. Depending on the conditions of where it is kept, this may be a long process or a quick one.
Tip: It is important to keep your bottles on their side when they are being cellared so that the wine is in contact with the cork. This preserves the condition of the cork, preventing it from drying out and shrinking, during which, the amount of air entering the bottle will increase. If the bottle is stored on its side, however, and humidity is low, the cork may dry out and the bottle may leak. So, balance is everything.
When a bottle is aging, the oxygen breaks down certain elements in wine such as tannin, flavor and aromatic compounds. Upon tasting the wine after a certain period of aging, it may be favorable to some, to others not. However, the change is perceivable. Harsh, astringent tannins found in red wines (due to fermentation with their skins) soften over time. Fruity profiles, both in flavor and aromatics, turn more savory. When you decant a wine, it is comparable (not completely) to aging a wine, only in a much faster manner. Decanting allows for air to come into contact with the wine, thus enhancing some flavors and characteristics while subduing others.
Which Wines Should be Decanted & Why?
Decanting Young Red Wines
We’ve all gone out and picked up that last minute bottle of red wine, only to take it home and pour ourselves a glass and find it was too dry and too big and bold. The dry aspect of wines are the tannins at work. Perhaps you made it past the first two sips and ventured into cooking or into a conversation, and a few minutes later, you noticed the wine had improved? This is due to the contact the wine has had with the air. When you pour wine into a decanter, it hastens the process and makes the wine ready to enjoy from first sip. Oxygen contact softens the tannins, which allows you to experience the other nuances of the wine much more.
Decanting Cellared Red Wines
If you’re a serious collector, then you might have a few bottles that are begging to be opened. Why? Think about it. If you were kept up in a bottle for a few years, you might want some fresh air too, right? If the wine has some sediment in the bottle, pour it through a screen which will sit at the opening of the decanter; it will remove the sediment. If you’re unsure whether to decant, taste the wine before decanting and then decant a small amount after and see which you prefer better.
Decanting Vintage Port
This is not a hot item for many people who are wine enthusiasts, but if you’re into trying something different, a Vintage Port might be an interesting choice. Even if you might have one which has been sitting in your cellar for a couple decades, it is rare it won’t need decanting. Some are recommended for decanting at least for a few hours (some a day earlier) before they can truly be enjoyed.
Can you decant white wines?
Most white wines do not need to be decanted, even if they are young or even if they’ve been cellared. Though there are the rare exceptions, many white wines have a delicate structure and aromatics. These wines can be spoiled by decanting.
What are the best tools for decanting?
There are dozens of gadgets out there proclaiming to be the best and most modern methods for decanting wine. However, the two best decanters have been listed as:
- A classic, glass decanter with a bulbous bottom that allows for a wider surface area of the wine to be in contact with air.
- The second one, especially for those who like to enjoy a glass at a time, is the Vinturi system. It works by pouring the wine through a tube in which there are two holes on each side that pull in air as the wine empties at the bottom. It is fast and effective, and it makes it fun to learn how wines may taste better with or without decanting.
Before this comes to a close, it would not be fair just to say in all honesty that the best decanter is your glass. If you’ve invested in a few nice wine glasses that are large and give you the room to swirl your wine and give your wine air, then that’s all you need. Just don’t fill your glass up more than halfway.