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Decanting Wine: The Whys, Hows, and Everything in Between

Having bottles of wine at home helps you prepare for special events. How do you ensure that the wine you’re going to store for a long time will have the same taste, or even better? This is where decanting comes in handy.

What is decanting and why do you need it?

Oenophiles, wine connoisseurs, or simply wine lovers will attest that decanting, or pouring wine from its original bottle to a decanter, makes a huge difference in how it tastes. It’s an essential part of wine service.

Decanting serves two main purposes: to aerate wine to make its aromas and flavors more pronounced when you serve it to your guests and to separate the sediments that may have naturally produced as the wine ages, like in Vintage Ports, aged Bordeaux, and older red wines

Sediments are formed when the tannins and color pigments bond together and then fall out. You can’t just stir up the sediments and hope they will incorporate back with the liquid. Doing so will only cloud a wine’s appearance and make it taste bitter with a gritty texture. Although there’s nothing harmful with a bit of sediment in your wine, it sure does make it less appealing.

However, many opponents of decanting would argue that swirling the wine after pouring it in a glass has the same effect and that decanting would only lead to oxidation. They are also claiming that pouring wine into a decanter could cause dissipation of flavors and aromas, something that you don’t want to happen to a good bottle of Pinot Noir or Merlot.

Experts believe that, unless you are decanting a very old and very delicate red wine that needs little to no oxygen exposure, there is nothing wrong with decanting high-quality international wine.

Wines that are too young and tight, like local Napa Cabernet or Barolo, often benefit from decanting. This is necessary to allow harsh tannins that give wines a grippy taste to become less pronounced. Oxygen exposure softens up the tannic structure, enhancing a wine’s aromatics and fruit flavors to come up.

What wines should you decant?

These are the wines that you need to decant: 

  1. Cheap or affordable wines – they have that rotten egg smell when you first open them, which could ruin the experience for everyone.
  2. Expensive premium  wines – these include Chianti, Syrah, Malbec, Petite Sirah, and the like. Decanting is necessary for these wines because they have more intense tannins.

On the other end of the spectrum are mature or older wines that have reached their maturity after 10 or 15 years. Obviously, these wines have aged and have improved in aroma and taste over time since they have evolved past their youthful phase. This means that decanting may no longer be necessary.

However, since sediments naturally form inside the bottles of these aged wines, precautions must be taken when removing these deposits before you consume the red or white wine. What you can do though is to let the bottle stand upright for a few hours, allowing the sediments to settle at the bottom. Once all the particles have settled, you can then slowly decant the older wine. It is important to serve bottles of matured wine immediately after decanting them. Overexposure to oxygen may only spoil the wine.

Regarding white wines, a lot of them don’t need decanting. In fact, it may only hurt highly aromatic and high-quality whites. But if you have a bottle of white wine that tastes funky, especially full-bodied white wines, like Chardonnay, you can decant for around 30 minutes. 

The only wines that you should never decant are sparkling wines and Champagne. Decanting will only reduce their fizz. It can also make your bubbly lose its flavor. It makes it taste overly aerated.

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How to decant wine?

Here’s how to decant your prized bottle of wine:

  1. Leave the bottle in an upright position for at least 24 hours before consumption. This allows the particles to settle at the bottom of the bottle, making it easier for you to decant the wine.
  2. Use a clean and sturdy decanter or clear vessel that makes it easy for you to pour the wine into glasses.
  3. Uncork the bottle and keep the neck of the bottle clean. 
  1. Hold a flashlight or candle under the neck of the bottle while pouring the contents into the decanter slowly and continuously. As you get nearer to the bottom, go even more slowly.
  2. Stop pouring when you see that the bottle’s neck has become cloudy or there are specks or dust. These are the deposits that you need to separate from the wine.

How long should wine be decanted?

The answer to the question of how far ahead should you decant wine depends on the wine you are planning to serve to your guests. Here’s how long you should decant different red wines: 

  1. Zinfandel – 30 minutes
  2. Syrah/Shiraz – 2 to 3 hours
  3. Pinot Noir – 30 minutes
  4. Malbec – 1 hour
  5. Mourvedre/Monastrell – 2 to 3 hours
  6. Grenache/Garnacha Blend – 1 hour
  7. Vintage Port and Madeira – 2 hours
  8. Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot – 2 hours
  9. Sangiovese – 2 hours
  10. Petite Sirah – 2 hours
  11. Tempranillo – 2 hours
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