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The 5 W’s of Decanting a Wine

October 14, 2017

By Erin —

Decanting wine, the act of pouring wine from its bottle into another vessel, can be a bit like a shark feeding frenzy: it’s impossible to look away, but also scares the bejesus out of you.

On one of our recent tours, we were peppered with questions about decanting. Why do it? Should every wine be decanted? When is it done – right before drinking or hours before? How do you decant properly?

Well, when you ask, we answer. So here is the low down on decanting.

Who?

Everyone should decant. I’m a big fan, and admittedly there are those who aren’t as fussy, but I think decanting adds a bit of oomph to wines whether they be $20 or $200 (unless they’re very old, but more on that in a minute).

What?

Mostly reds, of course, but whites also benefit from a good aeration. Just make sure you keep them cold. Decanters, like the one below, are specially designed to be functional, practical and pretty.

Where?

Anywhere you would like. No place is off limits.

When?

Usually, 30-60 minutes is fine. For very intense wines like a Barolo or Bordeaux, several hours could be needed. However, if you have a very old wine (several decades) or it’s very delicate (Pinot Noir, for example) it may be better to pour gently from the bottle and drink quickly, as old and delicate wines can “fade” within minutes of exposure to air.

Why?

There’s really only four reasons: to remove sediment, for aeration, for temperature control, and to look cool.

1. Sediment

As wine ages, particles begin to “fall out” of the wine and settle at the bottom of the bottle. While no harm will come to you if you drink it, it’s not overly pleasant. Think drinking coffee with the grounds. It sticks to you teeth, and you look like you been driving in a convertible without a windshield.

2. Temperature Control

If you have been storing wine in the fridge or a chilly basement, you may need your wine to warm up a bit and release the aromatics (more on that next). The quickest, easiest and most friendly way to do this, is to pour your wine into a new vessel.

3. Aeration

Largely the most common – and most important – reason for decanting. Exposing the wine to air allows the wine to open up and breath a bit, unveiling the nuances in the wine. Think about it: wine’s a living thing and it’s been trapped in a bottle a least a year, often more, and needs some time to loosen up.

4. To Look Cool

Next time you’re trying to wine friends and impress people, casually decant something. Preferably in front of your bookcase stocked with awesome wine reads.

No word of a lie, when I was a sommelier working at a private club, I had a “decanting station” in the middle of the restaurant. Guests would actually stop their conversations and watch me neh neh. Uh, decant.

How?

Pour the wine into a large-mouth vessel, whether that be a fancy decanter or juice jug. If you’re decanting for temperature, aeration, or ceremony you can just let it rip.

If you’re pouring to remove sediment, leave the bottle upright for a number of hours to let the bits settle at the bottom of the bottle. Next, remove the foil from the neck to ensure the best view. Take a bright light source, like a flash light (though in fancy places they’ll likely use a more romantic, but less practical, candle), and, holding the shoulder of the bottle above the light, slowly pour the wine into the decanter. as sediment reaches the neck, stop pouring. Et voilà, sediment is now separated from your wine.

Be prepared: depending on the wine, you may “lose” up to a quarter of the bottle. If this is upsetting to you, you can always pour the remaining, sediment-infused, wine through a coffee filter into another decanter and go from there. It’s not the most sophisticated gesture, but neither is wasting good wine, so do this away from judging eyes.

This article, in part, originally appeared on thewinesisters.com