Why & When to Decant Wine
You may see people decant a wine at their home or in a restaurant and wonder, what is it all for? Well we’re here to tell you.
One of the things that drew me to wine was the fact that wine can be seen as a living thing that has the ability to change and evolve. There’s a trajectory in maturation that in many ways is similar to the development of living organisms. Throughout the winemaking process there are a number of decisions that affect the outcome of a wine and how we choose to store and consume that wine further affects its outcome.
For instance a winemaker could choose to make a wine in a very reductive style, which entails taking extra precautions as to not expose the wine to any oxygen. This can result in a wine smelling “reductive” which often has a similar aroma to matchsticks or rotten eggs. When you find this in a wine, typically in whites, this is exactly when you would want to decant a wine. Decanting the wine will help those reductive aromas blow off more quickly, opening up the wine to it’s true aromatic quality.
Decanting is all about exposing the wine to oxygen which in turn helps aerate the wine to develop into it’s proper character. Letting a wine “breath” allows it to be more expressive on the nose. Often when you hear someone describe a wine as “tight” they’re commenting on the fact that the aromas still seem wound-up and the wine needs to breath and open up. Now this doesn’t mean you can take a crummy wine, decant it, and miraculously it becomes better. It goes back to the decisions made in the winemaking process that dictates the quality of a wine and the way a wine should be consumed.
Most mass produced wine (wines you certainly will never find inside Craft & Barrel) are mechanized and doused with sulfur dioxide (among other things) to prevent microbiological spoilage, this creates a homogenized, uninteresting and simple product. There’s no getting better for these wines, they’re on a downward trajectory as soon as they hit the shelves and are meant for immediate consumption.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are age-worthy wines like those from Barolo or Barbaresco which can continue to get better after 10, 15, or even 20 years. As a matter of fact, it’s when you have the opportunity to drink a wine with a good amount of age on it, that you also want to decant the wine. Decanting an old wine will prevent the sediment that has built up over time from getting into your wine glass. Sediment isn’t harmful by any means, it’s simply what develops over time because as wine ages, phenolic molecules combine to form tannin polymers that fall to the bottom of the bottle. A completely natural occurrence which aids in “softening” a wine, but not necessarily an enjoyable thing to drink. So decanting a wine from the bottle to your favorite decanter will help keep that unwanted sediment in the bottle and leave you only with delicious fermented juice.
To dive deeper into the reasons for decanting and the science behind it, check out the links below which will further up your wine game:
https://daily.sevenfifty.com/the-science-behind-decanting-wine/ — Rémy Charest, SevenFifty Daily