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D ecoding D ecanting
When, Why, and How
July - October 2015 $3.95
DISPLAY UNTIL NOV 30, 2015
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the Decanting Process:
When,Why, and How to Decant By Zachary Sussman and Fix.com
To decant or not to decant? With apologies to Shakespeare, this is so often the question on the minds of wine lovers, for whom the time-honored practice of decanting a favorite bottle of wine can feel baffling and intimidating.
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Although it may seem unnecessarily fancy, stuffy, or best left to professional sommeliers or serious collectors with hundreds of expensive bottles in their cellars, the ritual of decanting wine isn’t at all complicated or mysterious. It can be accomplished easily in the comfort of your own home, whenever the occasion arises. It’s not so much the act of decanting – which involves pouring wine into a separate container in order to expose the surface of the liquid to oxygen – that confuses people, but rather the question of why and when to do it. Once you understand the basic logic behind the custom, it couldn’t be simpler, and may even enhance your appreciation of a special bottle.
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Which Kinds of Bottles Need to be Decanted? As important a role as decanting plays in the appreciation of wine, not all bottles require it. In fact, the overwhelming majority of wines produced today are intended for immediate “pop and pour” consumption, and require zero decanting. So which bottles ought to be decanted and which can go without? Generally, it is customary to decant wines that fall on two extreme sides of the aging spectrum. As Charles Antin, Specialist Head of Sale and Associate Vice President of the Christie’s Wine Department, puts it: “I often decant wines that are either a bit too young, or at peak maturity.
the otherwise harsh tannins – the chemical compound found in red wines that gives them their specific grippy, mouth-puckering quality – to round out and become less severe. This is what it means to allow a wine to open up or breathe. Decanting greatly accelerates that process. The exposure to oxygen tends to soften up this tannic structure, enhance a wine’s aromatics, and allow the underlying fruit flavors of the wine to come forward, making wines that may be considered a bit shut down or closed (wine-world synonyms for too young) more immediately accessible. Again, it should be noted that this is really only necessary for young, brawny wines that will only enter their optimal drinking window after several years (or more) in the bottle. If you aren’t sure whether this applies to the example you’re planning to serve with dinner, there’s a simple solution: Pour yourself a taste. If the wine in your glass seems a bit too harsh or angular, obscured by the firm structure of its tannins, then try pouring it into a decanter. Not only are the results likely to surprise you, but it can be fascinating (not to mention a lot of fun) to taste the wine at various stages as it opens up and develops over the course of several hours.
That said, as with all things wine, there’s no right answer. My advice is, when in doubt, decant. It’s rarely bad for the wine.” True as this may be, it’s important to understand the fundamental principles behind the process as they apply to the specific bottle you have in mind – whether it’s young and powerful or more delicate and mature.
Decanting Young Wine
Hefty, age-worthy wines that may otherwise seem too young and tight, such as a big Bordeaux, Barolo, or Napa Cabernet, often benefit from some time in a decanter. Although these types of wines ideally would be gradually exposed to oxygen by many decades of aging in a cellar, not everyone has the time (or patience) to wait around to drink these impressive bottles. In this way, decanting a young wine is often necessary to allow
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On the opposite end of the continuum are wines that have reached their peak maturity, particularly if they are more than 10 to 15 years old. Although it may seem counterintuitive to expose such mature wines to oxygen (since they have long since evolved past their youthful immature phase) in this instance, the process of decanting serves a different purpose. Over time, as a bottle of wine gradually sleeps in a cellar, it is common for a deposit of sediment to form inside. While this is completely natural and entirely harmless, it can impart a bitter and astringent taste, so precautions should be taken to remove the sediment before consumption. “The best thing to do is to let the bottle stand upright for a few hours for the particles to settle, and then decant it slowly so that the sediment is left in the bottle,” Antin says. Traditionally, it was customary to decant an older wine with the neck of the bottle held above a candle (although a flashlight works perfectly well), to keep an eye out for the sediment as the wine transfers into the decanter. Once the first wisps of sediment enter the neck of the bottle, immediately stop pouring. You’ll likely be left with a small amount of sediment-filled wine in the bottle, which should be discarded. Generally, you don’t need to wait a long time for an older wine to breathe in the decanter, and since excess oxygen can spoil particularly
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Decanting Mature Wine
the theDecanting DecantingProcess: Process:When, When,Why, Why,and andHow Howto toDecant Decant
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What WhatAbout AboutWhites? Whites?
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What WhatYou’ll You’llNeed Need
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