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Everything You Need to Know About Decanters, and Decanting Your Wine
by Eric Tansey, CSW, Sommelier
Calm down. I know that you’re thinking. As if drinking wine itself isn’t already considered snobby enough, now we have to pour it from a particular vessel? Don’t slap me just yet, because in fact, decanting wine does serve a particular purpose. Two purposes, actually.
The first purpose is to separate any sediment or “crud” from the wine. Many older red wines and ports naturally create sediment as they age. Pouring a bottle of wine slowly into a decanter, in a well lighted area, allows you to see the sediment as it reaches the neck of the bottle. All you have to do at this point is stop pouring and “POOF!” no sediment in your wine.
The second and most common reason is to allow your wine to breathe. Slowly pouring your wine into your decanter allows oxygen to come in contact with the wine, releasing aromas and softening some of the more harsh phenolic compounds that may be found in the wine. Wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Syrah, and Chianti, can often come across as harsh or tannic wines. With a little decanting, they soften up immensely.
So how do you know if your wine should be decanted or not? Well, if you purchase any of the wine styles listed below, I would recommend pouring them into a decanter before serving them into a glass. This will insure that you get the most bang for your buck out of the purchase. If you open a wine and it tastes sort of flavorless and really makes you pucker, you should decant the wine for at least two hours before serving. This will allow the wine to open up and relax a little. It’s like certain guys at a wedding…the first few songs, they may only have a head pump going on, but as they open up and loosen their tie a bit, that head pump turns into a shimmy and shake and eventually a full on two step. That tie might even end up wrapped around their head. Same goes for wine. Some wines are shy and don’t want to come out of the bottle at first. You have to just slowly, and delicately, introduce them to the world.
So, what kind of decanter should you buy?
There are several styles and every sommelier has their preferences, but there are four particular styles that I believe are the most practical, and provide the most benefit for the cost.
1. The first is just simply a glass pitcher. It is important that you do not use the pitcher for any other purpose but decanting wine. If you use it for tea, or orange juice, or lemonade, you may find that all of the wine you serve will take on those characteristics. The reason I am such a big fan of the pitcher is because the handle allows you to get a good grip and really shake up the wine, the spout makes for easy pouring, they are inexpensive, and finally, they are so simple to clean and store. This pitcher and this pitcher are perfect choices for decanting.
2. The “Fat Bottomed girl.” Not only do they look nice on a table, the wide base allows the wine to sit over a larger surface. This insures that the wine has optimal contact with the air inside the decanter. The long neck allows you to catch any sediment that may have escaped from the bottle and also makes a good handle to really stir up the wine. Just grab the neck and make a circular motion, swirling the wine around gently but quickly. The downfall to this style is that it is harder to clean and store. I suggest this large “fat bottom” decanter for optimal aeration, or this medium sized “fat bottom decanter”, depending on what style will look and work the best on your table.
3. The “Duck” and the “Horn”. These decanters make pouring super easy and are great for catching any sediment that escaped the bottle. The duck is a little easier to clean than the fat bottom decanters, but not by much. The horn is pretty difficult to clean without the appropriate tools. The downside to these styles is that they do not allow the wine to aerate as fast as the pitcher or the fat bottomed girl, but for pouring purposes these decanters work really, really well. They also look a little more classy on a table than the pitcher. If you drink more old world style wines that produce more sediment, I would suggest either this duckor this horn.
4. The fourth style is the standard carafe. These are great for any long trips or picnics. You can use plastic carafes or glass carafes and they are often a lot less expensive than traditional decanters. (My wife would caution you against using anything plastic, but for the quick purposes of a picnic or road trip, I think it’s fine. And cheap.) The downside to these decanters is that they do not allow wines to aerate as much as the above choices. That said, they are still much better than pouring straight from the bottle. I keep these on hand for camping trips, picnicking, and boating. Two great choices are this glass carafe and this plastic carafe, both with lids.
What about aerators? I have found through lots of personal experience that wines poured through aerators are virtually no different than those poured straight from the bottle. There are many schools of thought on this subject and those consumers who have spent money on aerators will likely say that they work. But not only have I tested the theory myself, there are several blind tasting studies that have shown a distinct difference in wines that have been through traditional decanting versus wines in the bottle or wines that have been through an aerator. I do not have a good personal recommendation for an aerator, but this one and this one are both popular choices among aerator enthusiasts.
How to clean your decanter. Here are some tools to make life a little easier. The cheapest is the old fashioned cooking spoon and cloth method but this method is more time consuming and sometimes annoying as you attempt to get the far reaches of the glass. For this you will need a large wooden spoon and a cloth. Just hook the cloth with the spoon and jam it down into your decanter, swirling it around as best you can. I think it is just easier to buy the tool. These tools really do make life a little more simple……
Note from Ashleigh: My favorite way to clean a decanter–and you can take a guess who does the most decanter cleaning around here!–is the traditional, tried-and-true combination of course salt and crushed ice. Just add a cup or two of crushed ice to the decanter, plus a tablespoon of course salt, and shake it around vigorously for a minute or two. Then rinse well and air dry. No harsh cleaners, no aftertastes. Perfect!
List of common wines to decant and the time suggested for decanting them:
White wines – I may occasionally put a full bodied Chardonnay into a carafe for a short period of time (5-10 min), but other than that I do not decant white wines. It is a good idea to let chilled white wines warm up slightly for a short time before serving anyway, so this just beautifies the wine serving process.
Rosé wine – No.
Light bodied Pinot Noir or similar light bodied red wines – I may put these into a carafe for 10 minutes or so just to allow them to open up a bit. Nothing longer than that is necessary.
Inexpensive (under $15) medium or full bodied red wines – This includes red blends, Malbecs, Cabernet Sauvignons, Syrahs, Merlots, and Zins. I always give these wines 10-20 minutes in the pitcher at my house. This really allows the fruit to open up or to settle down, depending on the style of wine.
Young Bordeaux, Brunellos and Chiantis under six years old – I decant these for at least an hour, but I recommend two hours.
Bordeaux, Brunellos and Chiantis six years to ten years old – I decant these wines for at least thirty minutes and then I smell them. If they are hard to smell, I let them continue decanting. If the aromas are lifting from the vessel I taste the wine. If the taste is lacking in fruit and astringent to the palate, then I allow them to continue to breathe for another hour or two.
Older Bordeauxs, Brunellos and Chiantis – I open the bottle and pour a small, 1-ounce or less pour into my glass. I smell the wine and taste it. If the taste is lacking in fruit and astringent to the palate, then I allow the wine to decant for 10 minutes. If the wine is still tight after 10 minutes then I allow the wine to decant for two hours or more.
Young Barolo under ten years – Barolos are by nature very tannic wines and benefit greatly from decanting. I suggest a minimum of 1-2 hours.
Older Barolo – Decant for at least thirty minutes. If they still taste astringent and fruitless, decant for two to three more hours.
In closing, do you have to decant your wines?
Absolutely not. You don’t even have to pour your wine into a glass, technically. There is a time and place for everything. For example, my wife and I enjoy sneaking a bottle of cheap wine into the movies on occasion. We drink those straight from the bottle. It’s just our little tradition. We also often take wine on picnics. Wine in a carafe just seems to set the mood. Decanting is just another tool that may help to enhance the wine drinking experience and insure that you get the most joy out of your wine. If you run into any more questions please feel free to hit us up on any social media platform or call or text 774-4review thats 774-473-8439. You can also comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be thrilled to assist you in any way that we can. Cheers!