Has there ever been a time while enjoying a bottle of wine, when you get down to the last glass and while savoring those last few sips, you declare that, wow, this wine is amazing? My question to you is, why hadn’t you said those exact same words from the initial sip of your first glass? What is the possible solution you ask? Simply by letting your wine open up, breathe, aerate. Let’s take a look at the process called aerating and decanting.
When you hear wine experts use the words “closed” and “tight”, it refers to a wine being concentrated, its flavors and aromas virtually muted. By the process of adding air, or oxygen, with the use of a decanter, a wine will slowly “open up”, releasing its maximum flavor potential.
Think of wine the same as you would a fresh batch of flowers. When you first bring them home and put them into a vase, the buds are tightly closed. Still beautiful, but not quite reaching the point of their intended beauty. Yet with a little time and a little air, their petals begin to slowly open, exposing their dazzling beauty for you to enjoy. Wine works in the same manner.
Many people are under the impression that by simply removing the cork from a bottle of wine, letting it sit for an extended period of time, that they are letting the wine breathe. In reality, the small amount of wine in the neck of the bottle that is coming into contact with oxygen is so minimal; the volume of wine down below is receiving no air at all, rendering their intended method useless. That is why a decanter or carafe is such a beneficial tool in helping your wine reach its tasting zenith.
The shape of a decanter says it all. Slim at the top and bulbous at the bottom, this allows for the maximum amount of a wines surface to come in contact with an increased amount of air. For most wines, an hour or two is sufficient. For many finely crafted models which are usually more tannic in structure, 3 to 4 hours and even more is not uncommon. There are times I bring a wine up from my cellar in the morning, which I put into a decanter for the day, so that by dinner time, I will be able to enjoy its fully exposed nuances. In rare instances, it’s not unheard of for a wine to finally open up a day or even two after opening.
Another useful tool to help in your decanting process is a wine funnel. It helps trap any sediment that may have accumulated in an older vintage bottle, including some unfiltered younger wines. You put the funnel in the top of the decanter, and while the wine is being poured, the tiny holes at its bottom release the wine evenly across the sides of your decanter, jump starting the aerating process. Nothing is more glorious to witness than ruby red juice shimmering down the sides of a decanter.
I often wonder why some diners invest in a high ticket bottle of wine at their favorite restaurant to enjoy with their dinner, and are not offered the opportunity to have it decanted for them by their server. Certainly the wine will be enjoyable, but over a course of a few hours during the meal, the wine has not had the chance of displaying to you its full range of flavors. Would this be considered a waste of your money? Could a lesser expensive bottle that wouldn’t require as much time to open up be just as enjoyable and more cost effective? Perhaps? I have been to a number of fine dining establishments that offer so called expert wine service. I have been met with a look by my server as if I were some sort of alien when I inquired about the use of a decanter. Maybe I should charge them a service fee if I was to bring my own.
A possible remedy to this problem is to see if your favorite restaurant has their wine menu online. That way, you can peruse the selections beforehand and know what you may want to purchase before you arrive for dinner. You may be able to call ahead, order your wine, pay for it in advance if necessary, and have them decant your selection hours prior to your arrival. That way, you are able to fully enjoy an exquisite meal along with a wine that fully compliments itself and your food.
Another scenario that could be a potential problem is what to do when you are invited to a friends home for dinner and you are bringing a wine that may need decanting. You may not be able to rely on your host to have a decanter on hand. Solution: properly decant your bottle at home before going to your dinner party and simply re-funnel the wine back into its original container. Presenting a fully “opened” wine will certainly bring joy to all who share your prized treasure.
For those of you who have yet to invest in a decanter and still want to reap the benefits of aeration, there is a simple solution. Any clean vessel may be used for this process, be it a glass pitcher or even a vase. The easiest and far less cumbersome is to simply pour your wine into the glasses you are going to serve table side a few hours ahead of time. The wine will open up in the glass just as if it had been in a decanter.
Decanters come in various different shapes, sizes and price points. Beautifully crafted crystal models can cost upwards of $100 to even thousands of dollars. Models that cost far less that do the exact same function, may not look as exquisite but can be purchased anywhere between $20 and $50. There is also a great tool I often use called a Vinturi, an aerator that you pour wine through that works wonders. But that is a story in itself that will be addressed in another writing.
Fine expensive wines are not the only ones who benefit from the effects of decanting. Your everyday value gems can also be rewarded with a little time and air. Is decanting a wine always necessary? Is it just pomp and circumstance? I believe it is personal choice. There certainly are benefits if you do and there may be unseen unpleasant consequences if you don’t.
Decanting a wine is like stretching your legs after being cooped up for a long while. It may take a little time but the end result will be truly rewarding.