The practice of opening a bottle of wine an hour before enjoying it to let it breathe amuses many wine experts. “How much air can get into the bottle?” asks Amy Reiley, author and wine expert. “Really you just give your arm a rest after before you drink it.” Letting a wine breathe in its own bottle won’t help improve the wine’s palatability. What the wine may need is more oxygen in order to age a big, young red.
“To have contact with O2, more surface area has to be in contact with the wine. A decanter has the widest possible surface area. It is less vertical and spreads out horizontally. The O2 permeates the outer skin of the wine as thin as an inch, aiding it along, opening up the wine,” says Tyler Wesslund, wine director of Canoe in Atlanta.
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Marian Jansen op de Haar, wine director for Fleming’s Steakhouse & Wine Bar, says, “Just opening the wine up and taking the cork out doesn’t do much. The surface is like that of a quarter, not even. It doesn’t do anything. But you really do want to pour it into a glass or a decanter and then a glass if you want to give it even more oxygen.” She also suggests swirling. “The more you swirl it around, the more oxygen it gets. It’s just a matter of giving it surface, right? That’s why when we decant it. I tell our servers to pour it against the side of the decanter because you might as well maximize it once you are doing the decanting. We decant most every young red wine.”
But for how long? “Wines vary in the times in which they open. I decant everything except Pinot Grigio, both white and red. It gets quicker to its qualitative zenith,” says Wesslund. Gary Vaynerchuk, co-owner of the Wine Library, adds, “Obviously, it always depends on the tannins. I always think of it like a child. How long do your sit her down before you let her go play. The more wilder, the more tannic it is, the more you want to let it breathe. All wines benefit from an hour. Some wines need even more.”
So, decant in a wide bodied decanter with a long neck. Pour it down the side of the container, letting it swirl. If you have a wine with sediment, remove the foil around the neck and decant with a light source near the neck of the bottle. That way when you see any sediment approaching the lip of the neck, you can stop decanting and keep your wine clear. Strain what is left into a small container and use in cooking
There are a number of beautiful decanters on the market that provide optimal space for aeration while adding a touch of elegance and sophistication to your wine drinking experience. The most elegant handmade decanters available are from the Riedel company. With 250 years of glass making experience, the company is always innovating. Currently they offer a number of variations of the standard decanter that has a wide bottom and a narrow neck. Each decanter is spacious enough to hold a normal wine bottle, yet provide enough air space within the decanter so that oxygen can do its work. The Vinum line is the classic bugle shape and retails for $130-$300. The Ultra line has a very squat broad bottom, a narrow neck, with a very wide lip. It retails between $170 and $190. The Cornetto has an off-center line that sweeps in an arch toward a slanted lip, and sells for under $200. The Riedel duck or dove is a bird shaped decanter with a slanted neck and a handle. It retails for around $190. But it is the Amadeo Lyra that is the Cadillac of their line. It is a thin, lyra shaped “U,” with a broader opening to receive the wine into the decanter and a thin pouring lip for dispensing the wine into a glass. This piece of glass art has an elegant price tag of between $330 and $530.
Like Riedel, the Spiegelau glass company has been around a long time, almost 500 years. However, it was bought from the Spiegelau family in 1990 and is now owned by the Riedel Glass Works. Spiegelau preserves the craftsmanship of fine hand blown glass and offers a line of standard decanters, including the Pisa, which is a handled bugle on a leaning base. All of their decanters sell for under $100.
Ravenscroft Sommelier Decanters and their other fine line of crystal decanters are made from ancient minerals. These raw materials eliminate the need to use lead in their crystal. Long term storage in lead crystal can leach lead into the alcohol it holds. This is especially problematic for spirits. Not having lead in the glass mix makes it more difficult to cut since the glass isn’t softened by the lead. Therefore, Ravenscroft relies on expertise to hand cut and polish each decanter.
Despite the difficulties, Ravenscroft has been able to create standard bugle and squat decanters but a variety of other shapes, including ducks, pedestal decanters, and amphora. Their most interesting are their Torus decanter and their Omega decanter, which are shaped with a hole in the center of the body of the glass. Ravenscroft has been able to bring all of these innovative designs to the table at less cost. Most of their decanters sell for under $200 and many for under $100.
For your decanting needs, there is a decanter to fit your personal style.