Friday, November 13, 2009

"D" is for Decanting Wines

People often ask me about the art of decanting wine. First wine whites do not need to be decanted. Whites are generally meant to be consumed within the first two years of purchase. However, some people prefer to decant big, white wines. The added aeration opens up the wine’s aromas.

Decanting is the process of transferring wine from its bottle into a decanter. A decanter can be a glass pitcher or a carafe. Its purpose is to three fold. Decanting is necessary when a young wine needs aeration, an old vintage has deposited some sediment in the bottom of the bottle, and cork parts have slipped into the bottle.

The best decanters for young wines look similar to a science beaker. This decanter is narrow at the top with a wide, almost flat base. The wider base allows for more surface of the wine to be exposed to air and therefore aerates more readily. Adding air to a young wine helps to open up the aromas and helps to softens some of the bitter bite from the youthful tannins.

(Schott Zweizel Decanters available in fine china shops)

Putting an opened bottle of wine on the table is not a form of breathing or decanting. The only wine that is exposed to air and can therefore breath is the small surface inside the bottleneck. The point is to allow as much wine as possible to be exposed to air.

When decanting young wines, remove the foil from the bottleneck and pull the cork. Tip the bottle into the decanter at a ninety-degree angle. The angle allows the wine to tumble aggressively into the decanter. This tumbling action pulls in air, thus helping to aerate the wine. Let the wine sit in a cool place for a couple of hours before serving.

Narrow decanters are ideal for extremely old reds. Old reds don’t necessarily need to have their tannins softened. Decanting is primarily used to remove the wine from its sediment. The sediment in the bottle accumulates over time. This takes place when the wine is sleeping in the wine cellar. Sediment is dead yeast, colour pigments and tannin that slowly precipitate to the bottle of the bottle. Sediment can be displeasing to the eyes and taste buds.

To decant older wines, remove the foil from the bottleneck. Gently remove the cork from the wine. In old vintages, the cork may be brittle or dry, causing it to split or break off into pieces. Cork the wine. Clean the neck and inside lip of the bottle with a damp clothe. The idea is to not allow any dirt to fall into the bottle.

Light a candle and sit it into a candleholder. Hold the wine bottle in one hand and the decanter in the other. Position the bottle well above and just in front of the flame; do not let the candle heat the wine. Tilt the decanter slightly. While pouring, you’ll notice sediment climbing toward the bottleneck. Continue to steadily pour the wine into the decanter until the sediment reaches the neck of the bottle. Discard the bottle, and serve from the decanter.

Decanting old wines can be done in advance or at the table as you dine. It’s a beautiful ritual that adds to the experience of celebrating with loved ones and friends.

Countless decanters are available today in all shapes and sizes. You’ll find them in quality china shops and inexpensive supermarkets like Wal-Mart and HomeSense.

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