To Decant or Not To Decant

(TORONTO, ON) – Perhaps this question is best left for wine geeks? I think not. Decanting a wine does affect its taste. In some cases imperceptibly and in others more dramatically.

Yes, I review and write about wines and the personalities involved in making them, but I do not suffer from OCD wine mannerisms. I can tell you from a recent Riedel hosted lunch in Toronto that decanted wine does indeed have a different taste than wine that has not been decanted.

The difference in taste also may affect the taste of the food you are consuming at the time.

Usually when I advise you to decant a wine it is almost invariably a red, and a burly and hefty one. It’s usually a youthful wine which needs some aeration to soften up. This accomplished by pouring it into a decanter and swirling it around to increase the oxygenation.

However, for an older wine which is delicate and fragile, decanting may literally destroy it as it is transferred from a bottle into a decanter and then from a decanter into a glass.

I suggest not listening to me but buy a Riedel decanter and give it a whirl … rather a swirl, and see for yourself.

Riedel suggests decanting a wine is done for two reasons. One is to separate it from the sediment which is often present in older wines and Port. The second is to decant younger wines to increase oxygenation, reveal more complexity, and open up aromas and flavours.

Riedel suggests to fully enjoy young wines, up to 10 years for both red and white, and to consider opening them 8 to 12 hours prior to consumption or simply decant the wine.

Riedel’s view is that decanting the wine diminishes the amount of carbon dioxide and matures the wine, allowing the bouquet to develop faster. On the palate, a decanted wine expresses higher levels of fruit in red wines and tends to integrate and smooth out tannins.

When pouring the wine, pour very slowly for old wines until the gunk becomes visible. Of course there is the fuddy duddy method of holding a candle under the wine so you can better see the gunky sediment.

I’ll  suggest the use of a very fine filter into the decanter to capture the sediment.

Riedel has a dizzying array of decanters, some with so many swirls its difficult to imagine cleaning such complicated creations. I prefer one with a wide base but the artists in you, like George Costanza, may prefer the swirl.

Let’s leave the last word to Jancis Robinson, who writes in her How To Taste Wine.

“ Some wines, full bodied reds particularly, can be intensely flavoured when young,” Robinson says. “Rather than gaining extra flavors, the decanter allows them to lose some of their aggressive youth and mellow into a more palatable, if more vapid, middle age. This is especially true of some rich reds from California, Australia, Italy, Lebanon, and the odd rustic wine from Spain and the Rhône.”

For a selection of decanters check out the Riedel website.

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."Email Robert Stephen
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