How to Decant a Bottle of Wine

Posted on 07-03-2017

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Date: 4/5/2015

How to Decant a Bottle of Wine
By Lamar Engel- Sommelier
 Decanting wine is something that many have shied away from for a multitude of reasons. It may be because you are not sure about what is happening when wine is being decanted, or you are unfamiliar with what wines need decanting. This article will give you more insight and boost your confidence on how-to to decant wine.
 
Why Decant Wine? 

Wines show bold aromas and flavors that do not come out if trapped inside a vessel.  The idea is to release wine to its full potential, and bring out the many flavors that are characteristic in wine. Think of it like a genie-in-a-bottle. What is inside the bottle is much larger when it comes out to play. Younger wines sometimes express an immature taste, and need to smooth out in order to mature to their true potential. Older wines also need to decant, as age causes them to attract solids known as sediment.
 
These are reasons wine is decanted
  • To release wines maximum potential for all aromas and flavors to come out
  • To soften tannins that may have locked wine into a tightened state
  • To catch unwanted sediment from an aged bottle that will drink smoother when finished
 
Another reason to decant wine is to soften the tightness of the tannins that preserve wine, and in a sense holding back wines from opening up. This encourages firmness and the need to let go with balance, as the wine is ready to be enjoyed.
 
Oxygen is the vehicle in which the aroma and flavor molecules will make wine dynamic. Exposing these volatile or “active” molecules, called esters, will lift ambient complex aromas and give shape to new flavors that would essentially go muted or undetected if just poured from the bottle to a glass.

When opening a bottle, oxygen is important, as wines need to breathe.  There is a purpose to those funny oblong shapes of vases called decanters. The shape of decanters can affect the rate in which some molecules move, and how they pour. Some hold more oxygen and have longer necks to disperse the wine, while others may be broader, and may not require a large surface area.

How to Decant Wine

Open a bottle of wine and choose your preference of decanter. If you do not have a decanter, a glass carafe or pitcher will work. Before pouring wine into a decanter, take a look at the wine bottle label to see if the label is paper, and could possibly become ruined from wine running down the face of it. If the label is something you would like to showcase on the table, simply find a napkin to save your bottle from dripping.
With a napkin you can either tie the napkin around the shoulders or neck of the bottle to catch any residual wine drips before they damage the label, or you can simply have the napkin on hand to wipe up any drips after pouring the wine into the decanter.

Keep the decanter on the table and with the other hand begin to pour the wine into the decanter slowly. Once the bottle is near empty, slowly stop pouring and leave about an inch of wine in the bottom. Set the bottle down and allow the wine to decant.

Once you are comfortable with this method, try tilting the decanter ever so slightly to increase the service area of the wine and pour the bottle slowly again allowing the wine to run down the inside of the decanter neck. This will heighten the aromas and flavors even more!

How Long Should Wine Decant? 

Feel free to experiment with various styles of wines as there are no standard times for each varietal, however there are some recommendations for some types of wines over others, as certain wines require longer times exposed to large amounts of oxygen.  Open the bottle you want to enjoy at that moment and taste the wine. If you detect tightness within the mouth and tart almost chalky sensations, pour the wine into a decanter and enjoy!
 
White wines can be decanted as well as reds, especially chardonnays as some are more sensitive to light and oxygen than other whites, and typically respond in miraculous ways if you give them a chance. Often times oaked Chardonnays will taste less smoky and more reasonable within their fruit set, with more tropical variations coming out. Champagnes and Sparkling Wines do not typically need to be decanted, as the bubbles are present which release aromas and flavors by themselves.
 
Wine should be decanted anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours depending on the type of wine. Typically, the higher the tannin, the longer the wine will need to decant. Lighter wines can be challenging, and have the ability to do well if decanted.