Decanting is the process of transferring a wine into a decanter (or special jug) and letting it sit for a chosen length of time before pouring into glasses to serve. In this article, we discuss why decanting wine matters, which wines you should be decanting and how long you should be ‘letting them breathe’.
Why decanting wine matters
A decanter is used to oxygenate wine before you pour it into a glass for serving. It’s important to ‘let the wine breathe’ as the oxygen brings out the aromas and flavours, giving you a better tasting experience. I like to use an analogy: after being in a bottle for a few years, would you not want to stretch your legs? To let wine stretch out and relax in a bigger vessel helps to bring all the great qualities of the wine together. Oxygen brings the wine to life, and a decanter allows this to happen.
Decanting wine is a simple process – a bottle is opened and its contents are poured into a glass container. What makes it complicated is deciding which wines need decanting, and for how long. (Your average supermarket plonk does not need to be decanted).
Decanting is especially recommended for young wine – anything under five years old. Decanting a young red for at least 20 minutes will help dissipate the alcohol and balance the fruit and tannins. For a young white, such as a high-end Burgundy, 10 minutes in a decanter will help to balance out the fruit and acidity.
If a bottle contains a lot of sediment, decanting can help to separate this out from the wine. If a wine has been stored properly (on its side), you can see sediment along the sides and bottom of the bottle. The bottle should be placed upright for at least a day before it is opened; remove the cork carefully, with minimal movement, so as to avoid disturbing the sediment. Working under a good light, slowly pour the wine into a decanter, stopping as soon as the sediment reaches the opening of the bottle. A clever trick is to use a coffee filter set into a funnel in order to catch the larger particles of sediment before they go into the decanter.
Some wines can use hours in a decanter to really feel the full impact; others can benefit from just 20 minutes.
A general guideline for decanting French wine:
Bordeaux: between 15 and 30 minutes. Check every 10 minutes to decide when to pour, as it can be really interesting to smell and taste the evolution of the wine in the glass.
Burgundy: between 10 and 20 minutes. As Burgundy is the expression of just one grape – pinot noir – it will show many facets over the course of an hour, beginning as soon as the bottle is opened. In fact, many enjoy Burgundy wines when poured immediately, straight from the bottle.
Rhône: reds from the northern Rhône don’t need decanting, but those from the southern Rhône do. As one moves south, there is a noticeable change in climate, and increased warmth means more alcohol in the wine. Giving these reds 10-15 minutes in the decanter will loosen up the flavours.
Overall, a red wine will benefit form aeriation to bring out the flavours and decanting is the best way to do this. If trying one of our reds, try decanting it to see the difference.