Decanting: Essential or just a show-off?

Most of us who read these lines have witnessed, in some fine restaurant, the sommelier decanting a wine with surgical precision and religious reverence wine into a stylish crystal decanter. Do we really need that or is it just another invention of the modern wine lifestyle? Of course we do! Let's see why, together:

In which cases do we apply the technique? There are two, when we want to remove the sediment from a bottle and, above all, when we want to aerate the content to enhance its aromatic intensity.

Sediment removal

Does a bottle really have wine sediment (lees)? Of course it can, although rarely. It is mainly a privilege of aged red wines that, over the years in the bottle, the tannins and anthocyanins that come from the skin of the grape and give the characteristic "thickness" but also the color to the final product polymerize, aggregate and create a sediment that, although completely safe for consumption, creates strange, to put it elegantly, feelings in the consumer and should be removed. Of course, the lees can also rarely form in white wines, especially in oaked ones, while we must not forget the modern trend for natural and unfiltered wines, which will also benefit from decanting.

Decanting for aeration

Here we are talking about the vast majority of cases, since both aged and young wines will benefit from decanting.

How many times we opened a bottle and the contents either had minimal aromatic intensity, or still had some initially unpleasant aromas that needed their time to go away and let the wine unfold all its grace? By decanting it for at least half an hour (or more), it will get all the air it needs and improve.

Speaking exclusively about the purpose of aerating a wine, in general we decant young wines without fear and for a long time and not at all at the beginning of aged ones, until we taste them and judge if they need it, because otherwise we risk "losing" them and their aromatic intensity to plummet.

Sparkling wines are a special category

 How many times over the past few years have I been in epic battles for or against transfusion?

 The truth is somewhere in the middle. Sparkling wines, the majority of which are produced using the traditional Champagne method, need space and time to breathe by their very nature, which commands complex aromas but also somewhat heavy from the long stay with the yeasts in the bottle, and decanting certainly will benefit. The problem here is the bubbles that, as time passes, they decrease in number. So, as in many things in life, compromise and seal the deal somewhere in the between, reducing the time in the carafe but...check also the last tip below!

 There are countless videos on the internet if you want to watch the process but, in general, we proceed with slow movements, pouring the wine against the walls of the rim of the carafe so that it falls to embrace a larger surface of the glass and thus aerate more, taking care that at the end they remain the two or three sips of wine along with the sediment in the cavity immediately after the neck of the bottle.

Tip no.1: Do not throw away the sediment that will remain in the bottled. Throw it in your sauces and get bonus color and flavor concentration!

Tip no.2: For aeration I often apply a simple technique that has never disappointed me. For example, if I have to open a bottle at dinner, I open it in the morning and put the cork back on by hand. This minimum amount of oxygen that the bottle will get, especially in aged wines, is usually enough for the next 12 hours, so that the wine "goes forward" until the evening. Make sure you check the content in time for any defects and don't wait to discover it in front of your co-defendants. If you don't know what the flaws are, read here!

Tip no.3: Do I decant the rosés too? Of course! We transfer everything, because they will only benefit if the above rules are followed correctly.

Tip no.4: Use large, spacious carafes with with a larger bottom for young wines and smaller for aged ones. For sparkling wines, special decanters with a very small neck that somewhat protect against the uncontrolled escape of bubbles.


Stavros Moustakas Oktapodas DipWSET


About the Editor

Having a successful sales career, he entered into the wine world initially as a wine lover, continuously tasting and travelling in the wine regions of Europe, while actively communicating Greek wine through his blog. Certified as WSET Diploma, excelling with two scholarships (best overall performance, and best blind tasting skills in academic years 2016 and 2017). He has been wine consultant at a leading importing company, along with his responsibilities of strategy and communication of Greek wineries.