To Decant Or Not To Decant?

As the weather continues to cool down and we settle into the red wine season, you may find yourself pondering the age-old question: do I need to decant my red wines? The short answer: sometimes. The long answer: let's explore.

What is a Decanter?

First things first, what exactly is a decanter? Essentially, it's a glass vessel designed to enhance your wine-drinking experience. Decanters come in various shapes and sizes, from the classic, sleek models to those resembling modern art pieces.

What does Decanting do to a Wine?

Decanting wine involves pouring it from its bottle into a decanter. This process serves two primary purposes:

  1. Aeration: Exposing the wine to air allows it to breathe, softening the tannins and allowing the wine's aromas to develop fully.
  2. Sediment Removal: Some older red wines develop sediment over time. Decanting helps separate this sediment from the wine, ensuring a smoother drinking experience.
A Brief History of Decanting

Decanting isn’t a newfangled trend.  The practice dates back to ancient times, with the Romans using elaborate vessels called amphoras. Fast forward to the 17th century, decanters as we know them started appearing in Europe. In the 18th century, the British popularised the use of glass decanters with stoppers, allowing wines to be stored and served in style.

What Wines Should Be Decanted?
Not all wines benefit from decanting. Here's a quick guide:
  • Young, Tannic Reds: Wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, often benefit from decanting. Aeration helps mellow the strong tannins and opens up the flavours.
  • Aged Reds: Older wines, especially those aged a decade or more, should be decanted to remove sediment and allow their delicate aromas to emerge.
  • Light reds like Pinot Noir or Aglianico and most white wines generally don’t need decanting. These wines are typically ready to enjoy straight from the bottle.
Is It Just Red Wines That Need Decanting?
While red wines are the primary candidates for decanting, some white wines and even a few rosés can benefit from the process:
  • White Wines: Full-bodied whites, such as Chardonnay, Marsanne, and Viognier, can benefit from decanting. As a general rule of thumb, these will be white wines that have been aged in oak. These wines can develop more complex aromas and flavours when given some time to breathe. Decanting can also help reduce any initial sulphurous notes or "bottle shock" after opening.
  • Rosé Wines: Though it's less common, certain rosé wines, particularly those with higher tannin levels, can also benefit from a brief decanting to open up their flavours.
  • Young and Aromatic Whites: Generally, lighter and more aromatic whites, like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Pinot Grigio, are best enjoyed straight from the bottle. These wines have delicate aromatics that can be diminished with too much aeration.
How Long to Decant?
Decanting times can vary based on the type and age of the wine. Here’s a general guide:
  • Young, Tannic Reds: Decant for 1-2 hours. This allows the wine to soften and the flavours to open up.
  • Aged Reds: Decant for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Older wines are more delicate, and too much aeration can cause them to lose their subtle aromas and flavours.
  • Full-Bodied Whites: Decant for 30 minutes to 1 hour. This helps the wine develop its full complexity.
  • Light Reds and Rosés: Decant for 15-30 minutes if needed. These wines typically don’t require much aeration.
Decanter vs. Aerator: What’s the Difference?

Both decanters and aerators serve to enhance the wine's flavours and aromas, but they operate differently. A decanter allows the wine to breathe over a longer period, typically ranging from 30 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on the wine. This process is slower and can also remove sediment, making it ideal for aged wines.
An aerator, on the other hand, speeds up the aeration process by instantly mixing air with the wine as you pour. This method is quick and efficient, often used for young wines that benefit from immediate exposure to air. Aerators are convenient but don't handle sediment, so they’re less suitable for older wines.

Different Types of Decanters
Not all decanters are created equal. Here’s a quick rundown:
  • Standard Decanters: These are the classic models. Typically, they have a wide, flat bottom and a narrow neck, resembling a vase. The wide bottom increases the surface area of the wine exposed to air, enhancing aeration. They are versatile and suitable for a variety of wines.
  • Swan/Duck Decanters: These elegant decanters are named for their long, curved necks and graceful shapes that resemble swans or ducks. They often have a handle and a wide spout for easy pouring. The unique design maximises aeration and makes a striking visual impression on the table.
  • Bell/Shaped Decanters: Shaped like a bell, these decanters have a wide base that narrows sharply towards the neck. This design allows for excellent aeration and is particularly effective for young, robust wines that need more air to open up.
  • Cornetto Decanters: Resembling a horn or cornet, these decanters have a narrow base and a long, curved neck. They are often used for older wines as the narrow base minimises air exposure, allowing for more controlled aeration.
  • Wine Breathers: Modern and innovative, wine breathers are designed to aerate wine quickly. Some models double as serving vessels, with a mechanism that allows the wine to be poured back into the original bottle after aeration. They are ideal for those short on time but still wanting to enhance their wine's flavours.
To Decant or Not to Decant

Ultimately, decanting is about enhancing your wine experience. Whether you're enjoying a bold Cabernet, an aged Merlot, or a full-bodied Chardonnay, decanting can elevate your enjoyment. However, the best wine is the one you enjoy, whether it’s decanted or straight from the bottle.

Shop online for a selection of wines perfect for decanting (or not) this season!

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