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Decanting wine, explained

Aug 20 2018

A decanter may look like something you put a bouquet of flowers in, but they are more than just a fancy way to serve wine. They have an important job.

Why use a decanter?

There are two reasons for decanting wine, one is to remove sediment, the other is encourage oxygen into the wine to allow it to ‘open up’. This is mostly reserved for red wines, particularly young wines that should ideally be aged for longer. 

The large bowl bit of the decanter allows the wine a chance to breathe by providing space to sit and expose a large surface area to oxygen. This oxygenation is important for red wines as it helps to settle any sediment, smooth out tannin (the drying feeling in your mouth and the taste of bitterness is how you register tannin in the wine, it’s from the skins of grapes, nothing sinister) and open up the wine's aromas and flavours. It’s not just old wines that benefit from decanting, Young wines tend to have more tannin so if you’re finding a wine challenging to drink, try decanting it for a while.

A rule of thumb guide to decanting

For Old reds (20 years+ in bottle), decant immediately before serving, oxygenation will have happened (slowly) through bottle age, you just want to reduce the sediment.

Red Wines that are full-bodied (opaque, you can’t see through) like a syrah or malbec, can need up to three hours in a decanter before serving.

Red wines that are medium-bodied (semi-opaque, you could make out shapes through the glass) require about an hour of decanting.

Fortified wines (like port) benefit from two hours and decanting is best avoided for white wines and bubbly

The majority of our sipps are in their optimum drinking window so shouldn’t need decanting, equally very few of them will ‘throw’ a sediment. 

Some people swear by using a blender to speed up the aeration process (just a 30-second blitz). Is this a shortcut too far? Maybe. A slower approach means that you can keep tasting it, get a sense of when it’s ready for your taste. If you speed it up, you run the risk of missing that perfect (for you) moment.

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