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To Decant or Not to Decant...That is the Question
The idea of decanting brings images of blue bloods standing around a cocktail table with dozens of beautiful crystal bottles staring back at them. I used to think that people decanted their wine just to look "fancy". This may be true for some, but the real reason that wine began being decanted is because there was no filtration system in place for wine back in the day. The wine that would be poured from the barrel would contain a considerable amount of sediment and a system needed to be put in place to remove this before drinking. Now most of our wines are filtered to a very clear state and we don't have to decant to remove sediment but do it to enhance flavor prior to drinking.
When to decant wine?
1. Decant if your wine has sediment - Wines deposit sediment as a natural part of aging, some more than others. Decanting the wine can help to separate the clear wine from the sediment. Decanting the wine also introduces air into the wine - letting the wine breathe - releasing the aromas and enhancing flavors, particularly useful for red wines that are a little harsh.
2. If your wine has been aging for a long time - Decanting old wines, just prior to serving, helps to ensure that the wines' clarity and brilliance are not obscured by any deposit that may have developed over time (pour slowly and avoid decanting the last ounce).
3. If your wine if very young - Decant young wines as much as several hours before they are served to give the wine a chance to breath, simulating a stage of development that might normally be acquired after years of aging (pour quickly, even up-ending the bottle - the idea is to expose the wine to air).
4. Just for fun! - I like to decant just to see if mine wine in the decanter tastes different than the wine I poured right out of the bottle. Why not! Decanters are also pretty so if you are having a party why not show them off. Just don't keep them sitting out for too long.
How to Decant Wine?
How to Decant Aged Wine
For old wines with sediment one needs to be very careful when pouring the wine into a decanter. First, stand the bottle up for several hours to allow the sediment to settle at the bottom. Fine sediment will take longer to settle to the bottom of the bottle.
Use a lit candle or lamp if you can't see where the sediment is in the bottle. Hold the bottle of wine so that the area just below the neck of the wine bottle can be seen through the light while pouring. Ever so slowly begin pouring the aged wine into the decanter. Be patient. Hold the bottle as much as possible perpendicular to the candle. As the last one-third of the wine is poured, carefully watch for sediment. Stop pouring when any sediment appears in the neck of the bottle.
How to Decant Young Red Wine
For young red wines, splash the wine into the decanter. The more it splashes into the decanter, the more it comes in contact with oxygen. Let the wine settle and rest for a short time.
How Long to decant?
If you are decanting your wine in order to let it breathe you will usually want it to sit in the decanter 1/2 hour to 1 hour before drinking. Your goal is for the wine to be giving off aromas. If it's not releasing flavors into the air, it's going to taste still and blah. There is however a point where you can let your wine decant too long. You would not want your wine to sit out at room temperature for 8 hours or more. At this point the wine will be come oxidized and begin to taste more like vinegar and/or sherry. Remember, back in the old says wine was kept at about 50 degrees so being at 70+ for a substantial amount of time would be bad for the wine.
What Kind of Decanter?
Wine decanter design varies from the purely function to extravagantly decorated, but sometimes unusual design and functionality can go hand-in-hand as in the Orbital Decanter that, when removed from its base, will sit elegantly on your table while a gentle orbital movement increases the breathing of your wine with minimal disturbance. But the basic point of the decanter is to let air into the wine and to remove the sediment so whichever type you prefer is the one you should chose. There really is no right or wrong decanter.
Of course, you can always let your wine breathe by just taking the cork out of the bottle, but very little air touches the surface and it will take much longer to achieve the desired effect. Some experts prefer to let wine breathe in the wineglass but I personally find it hard to wait patiently once it's been poured.
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