Decanting. It’s a topic we’ve all had questions about at one point or another. Maybe you’ve just received a very “thoughtful” gift from a boozy relative and aren’t sure what to do with it. Maybe you’re about to open up that nice bottle of Bordeaux and want to make sure you enjoy it to its full potential but aren’t sure what to do. Maybe you're a wine veteran and just want a final answer to the question, “How long?"
Well whatever the case, we at Winesave have you covered.
First things first. What is decanting?
Decanting is simply pouring wine from it’s original bottle into another vessel to allow the wine to come into contact with more oxygen.
Now, you may be asking yourself:
“Why is Winesave (a company dedicated to keeping oxygen away from my wine) telling me I need to expose my wine to more oxygen?”
Simply put, some oxygen is good for your wine. It allows it to open up; for all of the flavours packed in it to be experienced to the fullest. However, too much of this same oxygen will kill the flavours, spoil the wine and eventually turn it to vinegar.
So, while some oxygen can greatly improve a wine, too much will destroy it. It’s all about the amount of exposure and how it relates to the specific wine.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, back to the basics.
When wine is placed in a bottle it basically goes to sleep. It remains fresh and ages very slowly. In this state wine is often referred to as “closed.” It is fresh but is has not had the chance to interact with oxygen and release it’s full flavour.
When tasted at this state the wine will most likely be very tannic, bitter or uninteresting. It will not display the smells and flavours one would expect.
When you decant the wine, you allow it to “open up” the wine becomes more aromatic and pleasant to the taste. It will develop more of the fruity notes expected and the harsh tannins of the wine will soften.
So, what wines should be decanted? All of them. Predominantly reds, but whites can benefit greatly from decanting as well. We would avoid decanting champagne though.
New wines will ofter turn from mediocre or even bad, to quite pleasant when decanted.
Sometimes new wine can have a strong sulphur smell, like rotten eggs. This can be very unpleasant when drinking the wine. Decanting will cause this smell to subside and usually cause the unnoticed notes in the wine to come to the surface.
With old wine, we advise being cautious. Decanting can greatly improve an old wine, but they are fragile. Especially above 10 years. Decant for a short period of time and sample often noticing the development of the flavours.
How does one go about decanting wine?
There are many approaches to decanting. Here is ours:
Decanters are notoriously hard to clean so we recommend a quick rinse with wine. Pour a small amount of wine into the decanter and swirl it around covering all the surface area of the inside of the decanter. Then pour the wine into a glass and sip it.
This accomplishes two things. Firstly, it ensures any dust or residue on the inside of the decanter will be cleared out. Secondly, it allows you to have an initial taste of the wine to see if it will benefit from aeration.
If after this the wine is still tannic and bitter, you know you are drinking a wine that will require a long decanting time. If it is mellow and fruity you know the wine will need only a brief decanting.
Once you’re ready to decant the wine you’ll actually be drinking it’s best to use a very heavy pour aimed at the opening neck of the decanter, as shown below:
This will allow the wine to come into contact with even more oxygen, meaning it will not have to decant as long.
Now to the decanting times. Different types of wines have different standard decanting times. It is important to monitor whatever you are decanting however, as every wine is different. There are many different online resources citing different times for different wines, but we like (and agree with) Wine Folly’s list, so here it is:
• Zinfandel: 30 minutes
• Pinot Noir: 30 minutes (e.g. red Bourgogne)
• Malbec: 1 hour
• Grenache/Garnacha Blend: 1 hour (e.g. Côtes du Rhône, Priorat, GSM)
• Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot: 2 hours (e.g. Bordeaux)
• Petite Sirah: 2 hours
• Tempranillo: 2 hours (e.g. Rioja, Ribera del Deuro)
• Sangiovese: 2 hours (e.g. Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti)
• Vintage Port & Madeira: 2 hours
• Mourvèdre/Monastrell 2–3 hours (e.g. Bandol)
• Dão and Douro Reds: 2–3 hours
• Syrah/Shiraz: 2–3 hours
• Nebbiolo 3+ hours (e.g. Barolo, Barbaresco)
Generally speaking just pouring from the bottle to the glass will be sufficient, but for really full bodied whites such as Chardonnays, 30 minutes of decanting may be beneficial. Also, if you notice an odd vegetable flavour to the withe wine, decanting may get rid of this.
So whether your drunken aunt got you a decanter for Christmas or you just weren’t 100% sure how exactly it was supposed to be done, we hope you enjoyed our brief guide to decanting.
Stay tuned for more wine tips!