Let it Breathe - Wine Decanters
You’ve heard it’s a good idea, but what is the point of a wine decanter? Does wine need to breathe, and why? Does decanted wine taste better? Let’s find out!
The benefits of using a wine decanter are clear – decanting results in better fruit expression, a softer structure and the best possible tasting condition, so it is good practice to decant certain wines.
What is a Decanter?
A decanter is a vessel, traditionally made from glass or crystal, into which wine is poured. Decanters come in a variety of shapes, sizes and designs including standard, swan, cornett and duck. Aerators are another option – more on those later!
Is a decanter the same as a carafe? The answer is no, as they serve different purposes. While a carafe is for the presentation and serving of your wine, a decanter is designed to enable and accelerate the aeration process.
Why use a Wine Decanter?
The major benefit of decanting is to let wine and oxygen combine. Wine feeds on the increased oxygen when it’s aerated, giving it the best chance to open up. This allows the fruit and florals to prosper, the structure and tannins to soften, and the wine to be in optimum tasting condition. Decanting also aids in removing sediment, particularly from aged wine.
In the past, a wine that had a cork and was deemed worthy, or was of good providence, was meant to be decanted, but the advent of the screwcap has changed all this. It’s the newer bottles in your cellar, the ones you put aside for immediate drinking, which are the ones that can benefit from a little TLC in a wine decanter.
As screwcapped wines arrive tighter and more fine-boned that their predecessors under cork, a bit of air can help release primary fruit and aid texture.
We asked Tasting Panellist, winemaker and wine show judge, Dave Mavor, to fill us in on how and when you should decant a wine.
When to use a Wine Decanter
How long do you leave wine in a decanter?
In terms of time, newer wines can be left in the decanter and you’ll notice they open up over the course of a couple of hours. Older wines, however, do not need more than an hour as they will start to fall away in the decanter and fruit can become stripped quite quickly.
When to decant your wine
Decant an older wine to separate it from its sediment. If your wine has been stored on its side for a long time, first let it rest in an upright position. Slowly pour the wine into the decanter without allowing any sediment to leave the bottle.
Decant a younger wine to increase aeration, revealing more complexity and opening up aromas and flavours. When decanting young wines, turn the bottle straight into the decanter and let it splash into the vessel, allowing maximum aeration.
Should you aerate cheap, inferior wine?
Yes! Decanting a cheap wine can often help to get rid of the unpleasant odour from the sulphur dioxide. You might even fool your friends into thinking you’re drinking a much more expensive wine.
While we generally prefer the ritual, elegance and occasion of a wine decanter, there is no question that aerators are one of the fastest ways to achieve a similar result.
The theory works on the venturi effect, where the velocity of a wine poured through a small gap increases, and as this happens, pressure decreases and air is mixed with the wine as it’s poured into the glass, revealing its optimal characters.
So, wine aerators are a fast alternative to decanting, and if no-one else is sharing your wine, you can pour a single glass through the aerator instead of having to pour the whole bottle into the decanter.
Whether you use an aerator, a decanter or even a jug, give your wine some space to breathe. Experience the big difference a little aeration can make!