Top reasons to decant wine

By Lou Phillips ·  


OK, so I wasn’t completely focused during my humanities classes. I don’t remember the reason for the Japanese Tea Ceremony, but I’d bet that a big part of it is that it’s just plain fun. Although I have no evidence of this other than my own experiences and conversations with other wine lovers, I do believe the same can be said for The Decanting Ceremony. Fun is Reason No. 1 to decant your wine.

Now, for the how of decanting. An effective wine decanter should be large enough for a 750ml bottle of wine to fill it half way. It should have a wide base, which narrows as it rises.

This provides maximum exposure to air, which is Reason No. 2. Wines that improve with aeration, which are typically young, bold wines, may be decanted from minutes to hours, depending on the big and boldness of the wine and how much time you have allotted for the process.

We don’t only decant to increase aeration. Many of the wines that age the best, such as high-quality red Bordeaux, Vintage Port and quality California Cabernets, are also produced without fining or filtering and therefore have sediment. The sediment adds complexity as the wine ages, which enhances the drinking pleasure.

Seeing and consuming the sediment definitely does not, which leads to Reason No. 3 – removing sediment. This needs to be a much more gentle and specific procedure. Step A is to place the bottle upright one day in advance if possible, allowing the sediment to settle at the bottom. Step B is to shine a light (traditionally a candle, but flashlights are now common) through the shoulder of the bottle while pouring slowly to see when the sediment may be at risk of flowing out. Older wines should typically only be decanted if they have sediment and then only for a short period before serving.

To whatever degree wine experts can agree on anything, most say almost any big, bold, young red wine can benefit from at least a quick decant and wines with sediment also will show its best when decanted. In addition, even many white wines, especially those with considerable oak-treatment, open up with decanting.

What it really comes down to is your enjoyment (OK, I tricked you, Reason No. 4 is the same as No. 1). If decanting, whether it’s the sediment removal, release of yummy molecules or just the ceremony, adds to your wine pleasure, that’s all that really matters.

I invite readers to e-mail me with any wines questions or topic suggestions.

Lou Phillips is a Level 3 Sommelier specializing in guiding private collectors and businesses. He may be reached at (775) 544-3435 or [email protected]