Wine is Richer When Decanter is Pourer
Gary Parker, Owner
The WineSellar & Brasserie
The Times, They are A-Changin’
The well-known song and lyrics from the music of (recent) decades ago, penned by Bob Dylan, still ring true in the wine world for today. The Wine Times are definitely A-Changin’, and in many, many ways.
Here’s an example: In the recent past, wine “connoisseurs” only decanted wines that were older, probably a vintage Bordeaux, Burgundy, or a well-aged California Cabernet Sauvignon. Decanting was done to allow the wine to breathe, as well as separate the liquid from the dastardly sediment at the bottom of the bottle.
The sediment, as it turns out, imparts a noticeably bitter flavor to the wine, and gives an unpleasant, sandy texture in your mouth. This is especially concerning when you are expecting a seamless, liquid nirvana experience from your precious, bottled jewel. Sediment in the mouth can ruin or seriously detract from experiencing the best you can from the wine.
The second reason for decanting is to air the wine, to “let it breathe”. It is true that wine, (wine that is not mass-produced), does improve with time out of the bottle. That time would be either in your glass, or in a decanter.
Opening a bottle, pulling the cork or unscrewing the cap, is not enough to let the wine breathe as it needs to. For it to improve, you need to get the wine out of the bottle. Either decant the wine or pour it into the wine glass and let it take in air for 10-20 minutes, at least. Take little sips as you wait it out, and you will see how the flavors and aromatics change for the better.
At this point, you may be thinking, “I’m going to decant a screw top bottle of wine? I don’t think so.”
Here’s one reason why. Screw capped wines can be subject to a volatile odor, especially that of sulfur, as there is little/no air exchange between the inside of the screw cap and the wine in the bottle. The good news is that it will dissipate rather quickly after the wine has been opened and poured out.
The second reason decanting is recommended: when you pour wine into a decanter, the resulting agitation causes the wine to mix with oxygen, enabling it to develop and come to life at an accelerated pace (this is particularly important for younger wines, both red and white).
Did you ever have an experience where you’re drinking wine with friends into the night, and that bottle keeps tasting better and better? The first thought is that when you start feeling the effects of alcohol, everything seems to be a little better. And that may be true in some cases. But with wine, well-made wine, you may be experiencing the effects of the wine coming to life after a certain time of exposure to air. This is what decanting accomplishes in a shorter amount of time.
Decanting wine may carry an image of pomp and circumstance, and therefore many casual wine drinkers eschew the efforts to take the extra step. And it’s more dishes to dirty for clean up later on.
I would suggest buying a functional, inexpensive decanter or find a decanter replacement. For instance, my favorite decanter at home is a glass fruit juice/water pitcher, which has a pour spout. This vessel allows me to freely pour the wine in from the bottle. Then I rinse the inside of the bottle with water to remove any sediment stuck inside, and pour the wine back in the bottle from the pitcher.
This is called double decanting, and allows you to decant multiple bottles of wine with just one decanter on a given event. It also places the wine back in its original bottle, so there is little confusion over which wine is being poured at the table.
I also double decant if I am transporting wine to a friends home for dinner, or taking a special bottle into a restaurant. This accomplishes a few things. First, it eliminates the heartache of transporting a bottle and then opening it, only to discover it is corked or otherwise flawed.
Next, I’ve gotten rid of the sediment, so I don’t need to worry about it releasing into all parts of the wine during transport. And finally, of course, it has been aerated and can now develop its flavors and aromatics as it should. And I’ve given it an hour or so head start from the time I was going to have it opened at my destination.
Wine shouldn’t be too much work, and wine shouldn’t carry pageantry. We need to relax with it, get to know it better, break out the water pitcher, and enjoy all it has to offer us.