Riedel Decanters - A Beginner's Guide to Decanting Wine
Which wines should I decant?
All of them!
Decanting young wine will increase oxygenation, reveal more complexity and open up aromas and flavours.
Older wine will often have sediment which needs to be removed.
Plus it looks great and makes you feel a little bit decadent!
How long should I decant wine for?
Decanting wine can take as little as 5 minutes to about 4 hours. The action of pouring a wine from the bottle into a decanter does much of the work of decanting wine instantly!
The best way to determine how long you should decant wine is by smelling or tasting the wine first, however, you can also make an educated guess based on the varietal’s characteristics. Here are a few of the most common average decanting times based on the type of wine you have:
- High-Tannin, Bold Reds: Decant intense, tight wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Barolo for about two hours (unless they are more than 20 years old or already taste superb).
- Young Light Reds: Decant lighter reds like Pinot Noir and Gamay for 30 minutes to one hour, if you feel they need it, and taste often to ensure you’re not losing flavour.
- Table Wine: Cheap supermarket reds can usually withstand as much as four hours of decanting, while whites can benefit from an hour or two – taste test the wine every half an hour until it starts to open up.
- Rich, Bold Whites: Decant bolder white wines like Chardonnay for about one hour.
- Light Whites: Decant light white wines like Pinot Grigio and drink right away, or up to a maximum of 30 minutes.
- Champagne: You can actually decant Champagne and, I'm told, it improves the taste significantly. However, keep your decanting times under one hour.
Tricks to speed up decanting wine
Speed decanting wine by pouring the wine once or twice between two decanters (or between decanter and the wine bottle with a funnel).
Swirl the wine in the decanter to increase the air/wine ratio.
Buy a bottle of champagne to drink while you wait. Time will fly!
Decanting cheap wines and young wines
Decanting any cheap wine makes it taste better!
Cheap wines can sometimes have really awkward rotten egg smell when you first open them, due to sulphur dioxide*.
Our noses are very sensitive to this smell (some more than others) and it can ruin a wine tasting experience.
Fortunately, this smell will usually disappear very quickly after decanting giving a really improved result.
Decanting expensive and older wines
Decanting expensive wines, especially big Cabernet Sauvignons, Italian wines (such as Barolo, Chianti, Montepulciano d’Abuzzo), Syrah, Malbec, Petite Sirah, etc., will be of benefit, but will often need less time in the decanter as there is a danger of them fading fast. Take regular sips to make sure you get them during their “sweet spot”.
There are a few other things to consider when decanting older wines.
Leave it upright. Leave the bottle upright one night before so the sediment settles to the bottom of the bottle.
Warning: Long Cork. Old wines often have a very long cork to make the wine last longer. Because of this, it’s important to make sure that your cork screw is fully inserted in the cork. Old corks are very delicate and will crumble easily; work slowly to remove them.
Decant with Light. When decanting an old wine, pour the bottle with the neck over a candle or a torch. You’ll be able to see a dark line of sediment approach the spout of the bottle and stop pouring before it transfers into the decanter.
A decanter is not varietal specific and its role is to provide an atmosphere outside of the bottle and before the glass for the wine to breathe and mature. The large amount of surface area and the shape help with this a lot.
*A bit of science!
The sulphur dioxide reactions that occur within a bottle of wine are known to result in dihydrogen sulphide, a gas that can get trapped in a sealed bottle of wine and is actually the main component of that off putting smell and taste that people associate with bad wines. This stuff is really volatile, and, once the wine hits the decanter, this gas (and other volatile molecules) is usually immediately driven off making room (so to speak) for some of the oxygen in the atmosphere to get into the wine.
This is when the real magic happens! The oxygen helps to oxidize some of the complex components of the wine (things like the tannins, but more the flavours and aromas), and makes it smell and taste better. I'm sure you've heard of a wine "breathing." Well, the breathing is the oxidation of organic molecules like aldehydes (which are as horrible tasting and smelling as they sound, but do happen to develop in wines) into ketones and esters, which are yummy!
(Side note: Jelly Belly flavours are made from complex mixtures of ketones and esters).
Decanting white wines and Pinot Noir
You can decant white wine and Pinot Noir, but most do not really need it, it just adds to the theatre and sense of occasion.
You can however decant a very acidic Pinot Noir if you find it to be too tart, decanting will help smooth out the flavour a bit and make it more palatable.
Certain whites such as Chardonnays can express themselves very differently after decanting. I suggest you experiment with your favourite whites.
Try one not decanted, then try it decanted for 20 minutes and 30 minutes and judge the difference in taste after each sample.
Believe it or not most restaurants do not use soap to clean the inside of the decanters. It’s too difficult to remove all the detergent and this adversely affects the aromas and flavours of wine. Usually though, warm water and a swirl will be enough. An overnight soak will be the most effective as it will draw out any stains or aromas into the water. Wash the outside with hot water to get rid of sticky finger marks and then rinse the inside with cold water, this will keep the glass from getting foggy, and allow to drain, ideally on a linen cloth. A deep clean is okay now and again, I use a splash of white vinegar and some cleaning beads.
A final polish with a micro-fibre cloth and you’re ready to go again!
Most of all. I don’t recommend putting your wine in a blender!
There are a lot of internet posts about doing just this, known as hyperdecanting.
Will putting a wine in a blender aerate it? Absolutely. Faster? Yes. Better? I’m not so certain. It won’t make a bad wine magically good, and a delicate, older wine might have only a brief period—a matter of minutes—when the wine is in full bloom, as opposed to a younger wine, which could bloom for hours.
Hyperdecanting could miss that magic moment, if you are really in that much of a hurry for a drink I’d suggest a beer (or a glass of champagne) while you wait!