Although we’ve written about decanting wine in the past, it was just this week that we found ourselves forced to decant a bottle of aged wine and finally understood the utility in this practice.
Decanting a wine means to pour it into an intermediate container, before pouring it into your glass. This may seem like a strange step to take if you just plan on opening up a bottle at dinner time, but sometimes it is worth the extra effort.
While there are a wide selection of wine decanters available for purchase, any glass vessel large enough to hold a bottle of wine and easy to pour from will meet the casual needs.
As red wine ages, the pigment particles that give it color begin to clump together, and flake to the bottom of the bottle. This is what creates the sediment seen in an aged wine. One reason to decant is to pour the wine without disturbing the sediment, so glasses can be more easily poured later. The best approach is to pour slowly from the bottle to the decanter, with as much back lighting as possible. If done correctly, you will be able to see as the sediment begins to move into the neck of the wine bottle as you pour, and stop before any pours out of the bottle with the wine.
Harder to judge, but more central to wine culture is allowing a wine to “breathe”. Exposing wine to oxygen changes the flavors. For most white wines, this will reduce the acidity and aromatics, which is why it’s not often done for the lighter whites. In a red wine, this can reduce the tannic notes, allowing for more fruit flavors. In wine speak, we say a wine will “open up” when exposed to air and the oxidation process.
In our situation, Nathan had purchased a 2003 red wine that had quite a bit of sediment in the bottle. We don’t own a decanter, so instead we grabbed a clear glass pitcher that we owned to do the deed. This bottle also need a chance to open up: on first sip, our mouths puckered against the tannins. Sitting in the pitcher for a few minutes, the wine became quite delicious in its new, mellow state. On a side note, we were both surprised to note that while the pigment had separated and settled to the bottom, the color of the wine hadn’t changed much since being bottled in 2004 (about a year after the 2003 harvest). It was still as red as good be (not brick orange as you might expect an older wine to become.