What does decanting do to a wine?

QUESTION: What does decanting do to a wine?

There are two reasons to decant a wine.  The first reason is to remove the sediment that can build up in a wine over time.  Sediment is particulate matter that has fallen out of the wine.  It is safe to consume, but some find it unpleasant and unattractive.  The older the wine, generally the more sediment, although certain types of grapes produce more than others.  To decant a wine for sediment, stand the bottle up in a cool place for a few days at minimum.  Carefully open the bottle and slowly pour it into a decanter.  If you have a light (candle or flashlight), shine it thru the neck of the bottle and watch as the wine pours out.  When you see a stream of darker matter start to come out, stop pouring immediately.  There will be about an inch or so of wine left in the bottle.  If you don’t have a light handy, just stop when this level is reached. 

The other reason to decant is more controversial.  For younger wines, a vigorous decanting may open them up and make them more accessible.  I believe it depends on how you will drink the wine.  If you are sharing the bottle with a partner over dinner, then I would not advocate this option.  Instead, letting the wine open up in the glass is the best way.  As you work thru the bottle over the course of a few hours, the wine will get plenty of oxygen in the bottle as well.  While this often results in “the last glass was the best”, it can be a fascinating view of the wine.  On the other hand, if you are having five others share the bottle during one course of dinner, than each person will only get one glass and perhaps 30 minutes to enjoy it.  In that case, I opt for trying to maximize the pleasure of that one glass.  For young wines, I recommend pouring the wine into a decanter and giving the air enough time to have an effect on the wine.  This time could be anywhere from thirty minutes to twelve hours.  Only personal experience can aid one in making the decision.  Some will say that there is not enough air in the decanter to have an effect.  Others insist that the effect is too great.  I think it comes down to personal preference. Loren Sonkin is an IntoWine.com Featured Contributor and the Founder/Winemaker at Sonkin Cellars

The primary and only truly important reason to decant a wine is, if the wine is old enough, that it has thrown a sediment [coloring pigmentation from the skin of the grapes, which turns from liquid to solid matter]. Decanting removes the wine from the sediment. The basic practice is to pour the contents of a bottle into another container until you see the first sign of sediment. Stop pouring and, hey presto, you have a decanted wine.

Some people decant the wine to allow it to breathe. This is of debatable value. It supposedly allows the wine to open up and be more appealing after being exposed to oxygen. Others deny that the impact is of much value because you are transferring the contents from one bottle, with a small neck, to a decanter, with another small neck. The wine changes most when it is poured into a glass, which is because it is a smaller quantity with greater exposure to oxygen. To the more intellectual drinker, the glory is in watching this change and experiencing the change in the glass, rather than missing it go through stages of change in a decanter. 

At a dinner party, a pretty crystal decanter lends to a much more elegant table setting than that of seeing a vulgar commercial bottle. Bartholomew Broadbent, CEO of Broadbent Selections

To provide diverse, unbiased, and independent advice, Bartholomew and Loren answer all user submitted questions without consulting one another. Sometimes they agree, sometimes they don't. Always interesting though. Have a wine question for them? Submit it via our Contact Us form