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What a Difference a Decanter Makes

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008 at 5:49:31 PM
by Carol K., Wine Enthusiast Companies

Vivid DecanterPresenting wine in a stunning decanter offers aesthetic pleasure, but beyond the beauty, there is a greater reward. Better tasting wine. Letting your wine “breathe” softens harsh tannins and releases its full bouquet. Contrary to what you’ve seen, simply uncorking a bottle is not enough—the bottle opening is too small to let in a sufficient amount of air. Wine needs room to “stretch its legs.” Most wines ultimately benefit from the aromatic unfurling a good decanter provides.

When pouring wine into a decanter, some aeration naturally takes place. For most white wines and light tannic reds, this amount of aeration may be sufficient. Young tannic reds often need more air than this basic transfer allows. Pouring them through an aerating wine funnel is the best way to increase their aeration and soften their tannins.

Mature, full-bodied red wines rich with sediment also benefit from decanting, as do vintage ports. Unfiltered wines (a newer trend) especially need decanting. With the help of a screened funnel, decanting separates the sediment from wine, purifying its color and taste. (Sediment is the organic matter from grapes that collects in the bottle as wine ages).

Wine FunnelsDecanting a mature or unfiltered wine requires a little more care. Start by standing the bottle upright in a cool dark place for a day or two. This allows the sediment to settle to the bottom of the bottle. Uncork the bottle, removing all of the foil; you will want a clear view of the inside of the bottleneck. It’s also a good idea to wipe the bottleneck clean, inside and out. Fit your decanter with a mesh-screened funnel and pour your wine in a gentle, steady stream, keeping a keen eye on the bottleneck. When you see unwanted sediment creeping in, you may be nearing the end of your pour. A quality screened funnel should catch any sediment that does sneak through.

To assure your wines are sufficiently aerated, open them before your guests arrive. A young wine requires a good hour or two in a decanter, while an older wine needs only 15 to 30 minutes to breathe.

How do you normally serve wine? Do you use a decanter? Is serving wine a grand event in your home? Leave a comment and share some stories!

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16 Responses to “What a Difference a Decanter Makes”

  1. 1 Hubbard Page said:

    We often decant red wines before drinking, or even tasting. One point: With older wines always check the fill level in the neck of the bottle. It’s normal for it to be down a bit, (depending on how old & storage conditions history), but if the level is down to the beginning of the shoulder of the bottle, or 3″ down from the bottom of the cork, BEWARE! The risk is now quite high for the bottle being off, or worse. A good rule of thumb is to always smell AND taste after decanting, well before your guests arrive, just in case you have to open another bottle. If you plan on opening two or more bottles due to the number of guests, I strongly suggest you decant them separately in two different decanters. Do not combine two bottles in the same decanter, even if there is room, due to flavor differences from bottle to bottle.

  2. I decant all my wines – barring very inexpensive whites. I find decanting helps open up all wines – but how long to decant seems critical (fragile wines vs. robust ones). Besides – it’s a great way to prepare you and your drinking partners – much like pulling a LP out of a sleeve, cleaning it, etc., prior to listening.

  3. 3 Donald Harris said:

    What advantage does decanting have over filling a good bordeaux glass 1/3 full, and letting it sit for a few minutes before drinking?

  4. I LOVE my Wine Enthusiast decanter set, with funnel and screen. I’ve used it for both older wines (to get sediment out) and younger wines (to open them up a bit) and it really does make a difference. Whenever I decant, I think “why don’t I do this more often?” I’ve got pictures up outlining the process with a young wine:

  5. 5 Robert Dannegger said:

    The problem I have with decanting is temperature. Many wine knowledgeable people still adhere to the “room temperature’ dictum for serving wine, but that was European room temperature that tended to be in the mid 60s. Most red wines, at typical US room temperatures in the low to upper 70s, do not taste their best at that temperature, usually more tannic or acidic than they do when cooler. Personally I put most reds in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes depending on where in the fridge there is room. Most of the red’s I drink are ready to drink now and in the $10-$30 price range. I have not tried chilling them further and then decanting them but to me the cooler wines taste far better than decanted wines in the 70 degree range.

    Does anyone try chilling down a red before decanting it?

  6. I also use a wine enthusiast decanter set and believe that it does make a difference. Especially if I let the wine breath for 2-3 hours before guests arrive. Now I do have a problem that is not addressed here but indirectly applies to decanting. I have a problem with my rabbit ears wine opener. The screw goes in to the cork just fine but when I retract only the screw comes out, leaving the cork still intact. Does anybody have any suggestions??
    This was a rather expensive cork extractor and I hope that all is not lost.

  7. @Michael– Sorry to hear about the problem with the rabbit corkscrew. Are you making sure to squeeze the “ears” tightly as you pull up? This is what will force the cork to come up along with the screw.

  8. @Hubbard Page
    Yes, definitely a great habit to get into. Who wants to waste their time decanting a corked bottle of wine? Certainly smell and taste before pouring it out.

    @Colin Lukens
    Great analogy!

    @Donald Harris
    Great question. Though a wine can certainly open up in a glass with a wide bowl, a decanter has a much larger surface area, allowing the wine to aerate even more. Moreover, if you use an aerating funnel, you’ll spread out the wine even more, allowing it to soften further.

    Thanks! Nice to see you here and that’s a really neat post, I hadn’t seen it before.

    @Robert Danneger
    I agree, in the U.S. we tend to drink reds too hot and whites too cold. Chilling your red a bit prior to decanting isn’t such a bad idea, though I personally have not tried it.

  9. I have never heard of the wine being aerated “too long” thus the need for a decanter stopper. How are you learn when ‘enough is enough?’

  10. @Ed Mirise
    air or oxygen is both a friend and an enemy of wine. Exposure to air can open a wine, revealing new flavors and aromas but too much can spoil it, rendering it oxydized. If a wine becomes oxydized it will actually lose all of those wonderful aromas that it initially developed. Taste your wine periodically as it decants. If it seems at its peak (i.e. the bouquet has developed), it may be time to use that decanter stopper.

  11. 11 Marshall (Wine Enthusiast Wine Storage Consultant) said:

    Regarding your Rabbit Corkscrew Michael, the problem may simply be that you need to replace the worm (the twisted screw that goes into the cork). They only last so long and after some time (a year or more) may lose the ability to grab on to the cork. They are available if you click on this link and are quite simple to replace. Good luck, and feel free to email me directly with any questions.

  12. I was recently presented with a gift of a bottle of 1984 Stag’s Leap Fay and was told to shake the bottle briskly before decanting. True or false?

  13. Hi Mark, that’s false. I don’t know of any instance in which you should shake your wine.

  14. I have looked at those fancy shaped decantors and wondered how do you keep them clean? I have a decantor brush but find it difficult to clean even my basic shaped decantors. Can anyone give me advice on how to clean the fancy shaped decantors so I feel comfortable enought to buy one?

  15. 15 Hubbard Page said:

    Hi Terry, this is not too complex a job if you have the right tools. 1) A decanter cleaning brush, 2) A set of decanter cleaning beads, and 3) Stemshine Liquid. A specially formulated detergent. You really need all three of these, especially for those with multiple curves. All these products are available, suprise!, from Wine Enthusiast. Do note that you should take care using the cleaning beads anywhere near a sink.They seem to have eyes-for-the-drain! Also, be sure to rinse at least three times to eliminate any aftertaste from the cleaning process. So now go for it and enjoy!

  16. Michael

    my rabbit corkscrew does two things, uncorks wine and removes cork from worm (or recorks wine). It is a two step process, when you pull once it opens and automatically locks to remove when you pull the second time. it may be that you offset it and it is locked in remove cork. just try it several times in a row and it should work. I had that problem before

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