The Can in Decant: Why You Should Consider Decanting Your Wines

Since the time of the Ancient Romans, humans have been using carafes and decanters to serve their wines. It’s an oenological practice that persists today, despite the lack of understanding that accompanies the ritual. Wine drinkers either end up decanting the wrong vinos or simply skipping the process in fear of spoiling the tipple.

It doesn’t help that over the years, the practice has earned its share of cynics. In most cases, these naysayers  had a bad experience with oxidation.This has prompted them to say that swirling is all the aeration a wine needs. Oxidation is a risk you’ll face when decanting your wine. But it only  happens only when you: (a) decant the incorrect wines, or (b) leave the tipple sitting out for too long.  Yet when done correctly, this process can easily improve a wine’s structure, mouthfeel, and flavor profile.

The Benefits of Decanting

Simply put, decanting refers to the method of transferring wine from the bottle to another container. This is usually a glass or crystal vessel with a proper stopper. This is a process used by connoisseurs and sommeliers to improve the wine’s quality. As red wine ages, parts of the liquid thicken into sediments. When left in the wine, these deposits will add an unsavory bitterness to the tipple. Its grainy consistency will also lend a coarser feel to the wine, making it rather austere and unpalatable.

By decanting the wine, you’re able to filter out unwanted sediments from your vino, thereby improving its clarity, taste, and mouthfeel. The act of transferring the wine from one container to another can also help aerate the tipple. This is particularly helpful when dealing with ‘closed’ young vinos that have yet to impart their perfumes or fruit flavors. As oxygen penetrates the vino, the liquid starts to open up by breaking down its aromatic compounds, This results with a stronger bouquet and a better flavor profile.

Knowing Which Tipples to Decant: Red Wine

When we think of decanting, the usual tipples that come to mind are old Bordeaux, vintage Ports, and full-bodied red wines. Heavily structured and lengthily aged wines are prone to sediment buildup. While tannin-loaded vinos like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, Malbec, Super Tuscans, and Barolos, generally require some time out of the bottle to ‘open up.’

But beyond these predictable heavy and heady reds, did you know that young and cheap wines are also best decanted before consumption? Most budget-friendly vinos have an abundance of sulfur dioxide. When uncorked for the first time, these tipples tend to reek of spoiled garbage or rotten eggs. With a bit of decanting, the disgusting odor starts to evaporate, and the wine’s fruit or floral bouquet comes out to play. 

While most reds will benefit from a spot of decanting, this is not an always case. When you have a bottle of delicate Pinot Noir or Chianti on your hands, it’s best to leave these tipples alone. Decanting them may interfere with their subtle flavors and light structure.

Decanting White Wine and Champagne

Most white wine varietals and blends won’t require further decanting, their age-worthy variants need it. If after cellaring one bottle, you open it and the liquid is at its ‘awkward’ phase, by all means, go ahead and give it a quick tumble into the decanter. Like its red counterparts, white wines with excellent cellaring potential will blossom wonderfully with a touch of added aeration.

As for decanting Champagne, well, this one is a matter of preference. Some like their bubblies fizz-full and effervescent.  Others prefer a subdued and creamy mousse. There are some renowned Champagne producers like Cédric Bouchard, who prefer the latter. They even go as far as advising drinkers to decant their wines for about an hour prior to drinking. We say, go with what makes you happy. If you like your bubbly buzzing with life, don’t decant. But if you like things smooth and flavorful, decant away.

The Proper Way to Decant Your Wine

Based on its definition, decanting wine seems simple enough. But there’s more to this process than a simple and straight-up pour. Follow these tips to make sure you’re decanting your wines to perfection.

Tip#1: If you want to filter out 99% of the wine’s impurities, we recommend keeping the bottle standing for about a day before drinking. This allows all the sediments to settle at the bottom of the bottle,  making it easier to filter them out once it’s time to decant.

Tip#2: Make good use of the light. Traditionally, wines were decanted by candlelight. The candle was held near the neck of the bottle to make it easier for the wine expert to avoid tipping sediments into the decanter. These days, this advice continues to hold true. But in lieu of candlelight, we find that a bright lamp or flashlight makes the process a lot easier.

Tip#3: Keep things nice and slow. There’s no use using a decanter if you’re planning on dumping the entire bottle’s contents into the glass vessel in one go. You can’t rush decanting, so keep your pour nice and steady. As the wine empties, slow down even more to prevent sediments from sliding out.

Tip#4: Cut down on decanting time by aerating wine using two containers. Transferring the wine from bottle to decanter is best kept slow. But you can cut your aeration time in half by pouring the liquid from one vessel to another. This allows oxygen to penetrate your wine quickly, thereby opening up its flavors at a quicker rate. Just don’t do this too often, lest you over-oxygenize your wine cellar favorites.