A Beginner’s Guide to Decanting Wine the Correct Way
Wine is a very particular beverage, and enjoying it is not as simple as opening the bottle and pouring a glass. Some wines require a little more preparation before they can be enjoyed properly. Oftentimes, some wines need to go through a breathing process to realize the bottle’s intended flavor completely. This process is known as decanting. It might be tempting to start drinking the wine as soon as you can get the cork off, but depending on the wine, this could cause the flavor profile to be off, and you’ll end up with a lackluster experience.
If you are not intimately familiar with the world of wine, the concept of decanting wine might seem a foreign concept to you. With this article, we hope to provide some guidance on how to decant the wine you have purchased so you can enjoy its full range of flavor.
Step #1: Acquire a Decanter Vessel
The first step you should take is to ensure that you have a decanting vessel on hand. It is not enough to remove the cork from the bottle and let the wine sit. You will need to have a separate, clear glass vessel for the wine to be poured into for the actual decanting process. We will get into the why of it a little later, but acquiring a viable vessel is essential to a successful decanting. Purchasing a decanter is not as complicated as you might imagine, either. The only real trick is being sure you are not confusing a carafe for a decanter.
While carafes are excellent for presentation, they are not designed to enhance the aeration process essential to decantation. Decanters are common enough and come in many different shapes and sizes. Ultimately, the exact style of decanter vessel you elect to purchase will have little effect on the decantation process itself beyond presentation. So long as you have made sure that you have purchased a decanter and not a carafe, as previously mentioned.
The most common decanter variants are:
- Swan: A decanter, as the name implies, that has a similar structure to a swan, with the neck coming up from one side and the decanter curving back into a second hole where the wine can be poured in.
- Duck: A decanter with a similar structure to the body of a duck and is similar to a pitcher with the base on its side rather than the bottom.
- Cornett: A decanter that is similar to a tall, crooked vase.
- Standard: A simple decanter with a large, rounded base and a long neck.
The decanter serves as a host for the wine to go through the settling process and connect all the flavors. Depending on the make and quality of the decanter you have chosen, the price tag might vary. Although, it is hard to put a price on something as unifying as a love for wine. However, you might want to consider your decanter purchase something of an investment. While the wine is gone after you have enjoyed it, the decanter will be there for any future bottles you care to try.
Once you have yours, you are equipped to start working on the other steps toward perfecting the red wine you have selected to serve. It will invariably be a red or dark wine since white wines cannot be decanted due to their production. Therefore, the next step will involve both your decanter and your bottle of wine.
Step #2: Prepare the Wine for Transfer
The next step involves transferring the wine from its bottle to the decanter. This is a slightly more involved process than you might otherwise expect, though. Part of the decanting process takes place before the wine has been fully transferred into the decanter. This is especially true for older, more mature wines. The reason is that, as certain wines age, they begin to build up sediment from the ingredients used in their creation. So the first part of actually decanting a bottle involves separating the liquid from the sediment.
However, before you can begin the transfer process, you need to prepare the wine for the transfer. The way to do this is to situate the bottle upright and leave it in that position for the next 24 hours before you plan to begin decanting it. This allows all the sediment in the bottle to begin settling at the bottom so that you can have an easier time transferring the wine to the decanter vessel.
After the 24-hour period has passed, you will need to acquire a light that you can position under the bottle before you begin pouring the contents into the vessel. It will provide the light that you can use to better see what you are doing during the transfer process. You will need to be able to have visibility since sediment is not necessarily clumps of solid matter, and some can slip past if you are not looking for signs of murky wine. Once you have the light source and you have allowed the wine 24 hours to settle, follow these steps:
- Open the bottle and then wipe the neck clean.
- Begin pouring the wine into the decanter slowly with the light directly underneath it.
- Watch for any signs of sediment in the bottle as you pour, preventing it from getting into the decanter vessel.
- Once you have emptied the bottle halfway, slow the pour rate again.
- As soon as sediment can enter the neck of the bottle, stop the transfer entirely, and the remains can be discarded.
Once your wine has been transferred into your decanter vessel, it is on to the next step. This step requires a little more patience compared to others, however. Just try to remember that all good things come in time.
Step #3: Allow the Wine to Sit as Needed
Not all wines are born equal. Each one will have a different profile that will alter the taste and time it needs to sit. There are many fine wines from manufacturers across the globe. Some will need more time than others to decant and reach their fullest potential. There are a lot of details that go into how long and how often a bottle of wine needs to be decanted, but the general concept is that you will seldom have more than one bottle that shares the same timeframe.
There is a basic chart for how long specific types of wine need to be decanted. This chart is as follows:
Light-Bodied Wine: Light wines generally need to decant for 20 to 30 minutes.
Medium-Bodied Wine: Medium wines are a little more resilient and should be left to decant for 20 minutes to 1 hour.
Full-Bodied Wine: Full-bodied wines generally take 1 to 2 hours to decant fully.
There are too many brands of wine for us to elaborate on the exact timeframe for every one fully. However, there are a handful of easily recognized wine brands that you might be interested in knowing about, including:
Zinfandel: A Croatian wine that should be left to decant for 30 minutes.
Pinot Noir: A French wine that should be left to decant for 30 to 60 minutes.
Merlot: Another French wine that should also be left to decant for 30 to 60 minutes.
Cabernet Sauvignon: Another French wine that should be left to decant for 2 hours.
Barolo: An Italian wine that should be left to decant for 3 hours.
Regardless of the brand of wine you purchase, there will always be a specific amount of time it needs to decant. Drinking it too soon will lead to the profile being incomplete, and drinking it too late might cause the flavor to start going stale. As a result, you would do well to begin the decanting process before the planned serving time.
Specifically, the amount of time it takes to decant, give or take a few minutes for the actual transfer process. This way, the wine will be ready to serve just in time for the meal or event the bottle has been earmarked to serve.
You should remember that older wines are far more fragile than younger bottles. As a result, the amount of time you decant it for will need to be adjusted to accommodate the age. If an older wine is left to decant for too long, it will deteriorate and no longer be fit for consumption.
Step #4: Serve and Enjoy
Once you have followed these steps, your wine is ready to serve and enjoy amongst any friends or family you choose to share it with. So, the only step left is to set out the glasses and pour the wine from the decanter for everyone to enjoy. Remember to savor the wine as much as possible, as a good wine has many flavors and notes that are not easily enjoyed if you drink with too much enthusiasm. However, once all is said and done, you might yet have wine leftover that you will need to address.
If, after the meal, you still have wine left in your decanter, it is vital that you re-seal the wine within 18 hours of the decanting process finishing up. Leaving the wine out for too long after serving opens it up to the elements that risk destroying the profile of the wine. Re-sealing enables you to preserve the quality of the wine for a longer time to finish up at a later date. There are limits to how long even a re-sealed bottle of wine can last, however.
The age and type of wine are factors, but your chances of preserving your wine a little longer increase if you quickly re-seal and store it properly. In addition, you will likely not need to decant the same wine twice since the time it takes for sediment to build back up exceeds the general lifespan of a bottle of wine. So, be sure to finish the bottle promptly if you do not want a single drop to go to waste.
Raise a (Decanted) Glass With Us
Wine is an interesting beast in the world of alcoholic beverages. Certainly, it is more refined than something as mundane as beer, and it requires the attention that uniqueness provides. Knowing how to decant a beverage like wine properly will ensure that you enjoy the experience and are prepared to do it again.
However, we do not think it is necessarily the wine itself that is truly the most amazing thing. This is not to say that wine is not a remarkable drink but that the true gift it offers is the bonds that can be made by sharing a glass with others. There is much to experience about wine and more still to learn.
We at the Wine Diarist have made it our mission to provide insight and clarity into the enjoyment of wine so that you can enjoy any bottle at any time. We love to share our experiences and knowledge with the newcomers to the wondrous world of wine. So, if there is more you want to know, please visit our website, and see what we can offer you in terms of wine knowledge.
For example, just last week, we put out a post all about how long and how often you will need to decant your wine for, which can be found right over here.
Or maybe you’re wondering about the common preservatives and additives found in wine and how you can go about avoiding them. You can learn about that topic, and more, in this article!
However, we also recognize that we have not answered every question you might have as of yet. The world of wine is vast. So vast, in fact, that we may not have yet written about what you may be looking for. So, please leave a comment asking about anything you might care to know about wine so we can address it in our next article. As always, we raise a toast to your health and happiness. Cheers to you!
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