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Why and how to decant red wine are questions that baffle some people. You might have wondered the same every time you purchased a bottle of red wine for entertaining guests. You might even have got into the habit of drinking red wine straight from the bottle and see no reason to change. That is a mistake, because decanting definitely improves the flavour of red wine.

Decanting is not something that only pretentious people do, there’s a science behind it. If you do not know why you should decant wine and how to go about doing it, read on for some insights.

Decanting explained

Decanting wine simply refers to the process of pouring it from one vessel into another. It is mainly done to aerate the wine by maximising its exposure to oxygen.

Red wine is usually decanted by pouring it from its original bottle into a crystal glass decanter. While you can ideally use any empty containers – jugs or other vessels – as decanters, it is a good idea to use a specially made decanter designed for the job.

So why use a decanter? Decanters are vessels that have been specifically made to hold alcoholic drinks and the reason a decanter is an ideal vessel for decanting is because most are crafted with wide bottoms. This shape provides a large surface area to ensure the wine gets maximum exposure to air to hasten the aeration process. Besides, you must admit that a crystal decanter can set off your dining table and is classier to serve wine from than a jug.

Why decant wine?

As mentioned earlier, decanting allows wine to come into contact with oxygen after being sealed in a bottle for months or even years. This process is very beneficial because the oxygen helps to round out the wine by softening and enhancing its unique flavours. This makes the drink more palatable and pleasant to the taste.

Wine is also decanted to remove sediment that might have collected in it over time. Being carefully poured the sediment can be left in the bottom of the bottle leaving the wine clear. Older wines which have aged in their bottles typically form sediment as different particles of the ingredients making up the wine solidify and collect at the bottom of the bottles. Not only does this sediment look ugly floating around in the bottle (or in your glass), it also has an unpleasant taste that can put you and your guests off the wine. These older wines benefit most from decanting.

Most young wines also benefit from decanting. The aeration does wonders and improves the taste, helping to soften it from sharp and tart to round and smooth. The contact with oxygen also encourages the development of the complex enticing aromas that red wines are known for.

Even cheap wines benefit from decanting to improve their taste. Some cheap wines can have an unpleasant rotten egg smell when first opened. This happens due to a build-up of sulphur dioxide from the sulphur preservatives present in the wine. As you can imagine, this horrid smell can ruin your wine tasting experience. Thankfully, exposure to oxygen will quickly clear the smell leaving you with a tasty drink to enjoy.

How to decant your red wine

You can choose to decant wine every time you drink it or only on special occasions. Either way, the process is the same.

First, begin by taking your bottle of wine from storage. If it’s an older wine that you suspect has a lot of sediment, leave it standing for a day or so to allow the particles to settle at the bottom. Once you are ready to decant, take a decanter, a corkscrew and the wine bottle to a suitable source of light. The light will help you observe the wine to ensure you don’t pour any of the sediment into the decanter.

While holding the bottle in one hand and the decanter in the other, slowly pour the wine using a smooth, steady motion. Ensure you hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle to the decanter and allow the wine to follow the curve of the glass as you pour to avoid frothing in the decanter. You can add the sediment-laden portion of wine left in the bottle to your cooking to enrich the food’s flavour.

There are conflicting views on how long you should leave the wine to breathe after decanting. The recommended time varies from 30 minutes to an hour or more depending on the wine and your preferences. Be careful not to leave it for too long because it can become oxidised or develop a bitter vinegar taste. Keep checking and tasting it periodically and serve it as soon as it tastes right to you.

As you can see, decanting ensures you get the best from your wine. So next time you want to enjoy a glass or two of red wine decant it first and see how much better it tastes.


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