Brian gave me a great wine decanter for Christmas, and ocassionally I’ll use it and sometimes when a group of us are discussing wine, we talk about decanting it. We discuss the reasons why you would or would not, and the various techniques used to do it. We have been aware that certain red wine needs to “breathe” and that simply opening it is insufficient for this purpose. Most of us like to swirl our red wines in the glass, and some think (I do) that doing so circulates air through it and makes the wine taste better.
Here is some information on decanting from the website of one of the great (if not the greatest) wine chateaus in France. If anyone would know about decanting, it would be this maison.
The main aim of decanting red wines is to separate the wine from its sediment which may have formed in the bottle over time. This deposit is essentially composed of tannins made insoluble by the chemical reactions responsible for the ageing of the wine. The operation of decanting causes a certain oxygenation which is often beneficial to young and powerful wines, but which can be detrimental to very old wines. So how should we proceed ? It is unadvisable to set strict rules, even for a wine produced from one estate, since they do not take into account the incredible diversity of vintages. It is not always necessary to decant young wines, as generally there is not yet any deposit in the bottles. But letting them breathe a little can often help them to open out, in other words, to give off their aromas. You can choose either to decant them or to leave them a while in the glasses before drinking them, thus giving yourself time to admire their colour, to smell them a first time, then a second time, to listen, to talk, to anticipate the pleasure that awaits.
Once wines have left a sediment in the bottle, whatever their age, it is better to decant them. What a pity it would be to serve a great wine that is cloudy. Even if its taste is not affected by the deposit, the pleasure of drinking it is not quite the same. You should simply pour the wine delicately into a decanter, or even into another bottle, over the flame of a candle. You can then see the deposit slide up the side of the bottle into the shoulder and then into the neck of the bottle. As a general rule, it is better not to decant too much in advance of serving it, even if some old vintages benefit from some time to breathe, for the risk of making a mistake is too great.
[white wine] follows a simpler set of rules: when it is very young, just open the bottle and serve it. But after a few years in bottle, it too, like other great white wines, benefits from being left to breathe before being served. Decant it preferably into a glass decanter before the beginning of the meal.
I think I’m making a move away from Australian wines towards Italian wines. Recently I’ve tried several blends that included sangiovese, which were outstanding. However, I don’t think sangiovese is great alone. European wines in general had a fantastic vintage in 2003, from all the hot weather, so I want to explore those. The American market has caught onto the Australian wines, and pretty much dried it up…I challenge you to find an Australian red in the store that isn’t 2004.