Perfect wine decanting

Posted on: 12 November 2010 by Alexander Hay

50Connect's wine expert Pieter Rosenthal reveals all on decanting wine, and reviews a wonderful pinot grigio from Chile.

One of the most frequently asked questions at my wine tastings is, “should I decant a wine?” Decanting is seen by many as a totally superfluous exercise, there purely to make the wine snobs feel happier alongside lighting candles in cellars and donning aprons to look the part.

I understand that sentiment but there are genuine reasons why you may want to decant a wine. Below are the three main instances when you should consider pulling out the decanter.

The first and most important one is where an older wine has built up a deposit in the bottle during its maturation. This is perfectly normal, particularly with red wines, and anyone who has ever opened an older bottle of vintage Port will recognise this. The reason for decanting is simple; you’ll want to separate the liquid from the solids.

The key here is to be a little careful. Don’t shake the bottle too much, and carefully take off the entire capsule and remove the stopper. Taking the entire capsule off will allow a good view of the neck of the bottle so you can spot the deposit as soon as it gets to the neck. Then start pouring the wine into a clean decanter or jug very gently.

Make sure you do this in a well-lit place so you can see what’s happening. I prefer to do it in my kitchen which has white tiles and bright down-lighters. You can free pour, or you can use a special metal funnel with a wire mesh insert (like a very fine tea strainer). This makes life a lot easier if you’re not too sure about a steady hand and it is my preferred method. Some people use paper coffee filters for this purpose but I find these filter the wine a little too rigorously so I avoid them.

The process of decanting exposes the wine to a lot of oxygen and therefore speeds up the oxidation process. With older wines this can pose a problem so you should decant them immediately before drinking and do it gently.

This oxidation process is also what brings us to my second reason for decanting. A glass of concentrated, young and tannic red wine poured straight from the bottle can appear ‘closed’ on the nose, almost as if it is giving nothing away.

Left in the glass for a while, the wine might start to open up, the result of being exposed to oxygen. But this process can be helped by pouring the entire contents of the bottle into a jug or decanter. Sometimes referred to as ‘splash decanting’ the idea is to decant rapidly, thereby exposing the wine to lots of oxygen. This process will help soften the wine and should start to reveal more of its hidden aromas.

Having just come back from a brief visit to the Champagne region my first thought was to write a column about this great sparkling wine. It was the fact that our host at Henriot decanted one of the Champagnes she poured for us into a chilled decanter that made me change my mind. She mentioned they tried it with various Champagnes and felt that it helped bring out the more subtle flavours, particularly with the Henriot Blanc de Blancs. This was certainly new for me but it looked and tasted the part.

So what kind of decanter should you use? A simple water jug would do the trick and if you want to use a wine decanter, various shapes and sizes are available. Hardcore wine professionals would have a different decanter for each type of wine but don’t worry about that; I know of people who have used flower vases instead! (Clean ones, obviously.). Personally, I wouldn’t recommend the latter as they may not pour as well, but you get the idea.

My final reason for pulling out the decanter is simply to make the wine look good. Wine served from a decanter looks festive and adds to a special occasion. So with Christmas coming up, perhaps now is a good time to start practicing. Why not start with this month’s wine?

Cono Sur
Pinot Noir Reserva 2009
Casablanca Valley, Chile
Tesco £7.00-9.00

Made from the great Burgundy grape, this Pinot Noir is grown in the cool climate of the Casablanca Valley where the Pacific influence creates the perfect climate for its growth. It has an intense, dark cherry nose with some spice and coffee aromas from the oak, but also those ever present earthy aromas that make Pinot Noir special. Rich ripe fruit, with soft velvetty tannins and all in perfect balance. Cheers!


Wine selected by Pieter Rosenthal at

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Alexander Hay

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