Lesson 11 – A Few Facts About Decanting

What is “decanting”? Well, it is simply a process of transferring wine from the bottle into another vessel. This is done to remove the sediments inside a bottle of wine from its juice before serving.

Sediments are heavier than liquid so they naturally collect at the bottom of a bottle. During decanting we carefully stop pouring just before these solids attempt to make their way out of the bottle. The liquid in the vessel now contains little or no sediments at all. From that vessel we can safely serve wine free of sediments and other unwanted matters. We refer to that vessel as a “decanter”.

So there you have it, cheers bye!

Well not so fast I am afraid; there is a bit more to it. For example, there is another good reason to decant a wine even if there aren’t a lot of sediments in the bottle. That’s aeration. Why does wine need aerating? Although the tiny column of air inside the bottle does allow the wine to develop with age, much more oxygen contact is needed to wake up the wine after so many years in captivity. The wine tends to be dormant – reduction is the technical wine jargon to describe this state. Traveling from the bottle down to a decanter gives the wine ample oxygen contact to wake it up fully. In its reduction state, even a great wine offers little pleasures to the nose and the palate. Every virtue is reduced in stature and charm. This is why white wine is also decanted even though it doesn’t throw sediments at all.

Now that the basics are covered, let’s get fancy. Let’s do the splash decanting. That’s just another fancy wine jargon for pouring wines back and forth between two vessels to further bolster air contact. Although there is no scientific proof that this helps soften up young wines, some would swear that splashing makes a young wine tastes smoother and suppler.

Want another variation? How about doing the double decanting? That means simply again, to follow a decanting by pouring the wine back into the original bottle from the decanter. Of course, you first clean the original bottle with water, emptying out all sediments and unwanted objects like bits and pieces of cork for example. Some argue that too much romance is lost when wine is served from a decanter no matter how fancy the glasswork may be.

There is a third reason for decanting – blind tasting. There are no labels on decanters. But be careful when you are working with more than a few wines for a session. I can remember at least half a dozen situations when I forgot which wine went into which decanter after a few sips of each wine. A word of advice: write down the name of the wine on a piece of paper, fold it and tape it to the bottom of each decanter just in case. We don’t want to be completely blind!

So what kind of vessels do we use for decanting? Well any transparent glassware that will hold more than 750ml of liquid would do nicely. There are literally hundreds of wine decanters available in the market. The come in varying shapes and all works wonderfully well. Prices range from Php1000 to 100,000. A sensible guideline for a budget for your decanters – multiply the average price you would spend for a nice bottle of wine by three. So if you regularly spend p2000/bottle for a nice romantic dinner, then p6000 for a nice crystal decanter is not extravagant.

Some decanters come with stoppers, some don’t. A stopper is useful for fortified wine like Port and Madeira, the kind of wine that you can keep for days in a decanter without losing too much quality. Another piece of accessory that you should have is a filter funnel. Pour wine from the bottle through the funnel into the decanter. The strainer in the funnel will filter out solids like small pieces of cork and large chunks of sediments but not the regular fine sediments. You still need to stop pouring when sediments start to approach the neck of the bottle to make sure none of that stuff goes into the decanter. You can get one for p1,500.

Well now you have it. Next time you dine out and order a good bottle of wine, always insists that it be decanted. If you enjoy showing off the bottle a little, have them double decant it. If the restaurant doesn’t know what you mean by decanting, walk out!