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How to Decant Wine

I suggest that you read “When Should You Decant Wine?” before you read this article.

You have probably seen wine decanted in many different ways. You have probably seen wine being carefully poured into a wine decanter or wine carafe. You have also probably seen what I like to call the “Slam Dunk” method of wine decanting; in this instance, the host turns the wine bottle upside down and, without any restraint, dumps the wine into the wine decanter.

So, which wine decanting method is better: the careful wine pouring or the unrestrained wine dumping? The truth is that you can do both – but not with all wines. Some wines are better served by careful decanting; some are better served by the Slam Dunk decanting system.

Wine Decanting Tools

The following are the basic wine decanting tools:

The use of a decanting cradle is optional, but I highly recommend that you use one. A decanting cradle will ensure a steady rate of wine flow, so you won’t stir up the sediments as you pour the wine. If you disturb the sediments while pouring, you will get less wine out of the wine bottle. If you do not have a decanting cradle, use a funnel instead; a glass funnel is preferred.

You also need a candle or any kind of backlighting. This will let you see through the bottle as you pour the wine into the decanter. When decanting, do not place the candle directly under the wine bottle; this will darken the bottle and produce unwanted smoke.

One piece of advice regarding wine decanters: when buying a wine decanter, make sure that it is functional and easy to clean.  I have this really beautiful wine decanter that I never use as it takes forever to clean. It is also so badly designed that the last one-half of a glass was wasted when I used it.

The Traditional Wine Decanting Method

Old and fine wines, while patiently waiting for judgment day, typically form plenty of sediments through the years.  If you are decanting old and fine wines, do the following:

  1. Two days before serving, take the bottle of wine from storage and let it stand upright. This way, the sediments will have time to settle at the bottom of the wine bottle.
  2. On the day of serving, open the wine bottle carefully to ensure that you will not disturb the sediments that have already settled at the bottom.
  3. Before decanting the wine, make sure that your wine decanter is clean and does not smell of stale air.
  4. When the wine and the decanter are ready, place the wine bottle in your decanting cradle (if you have one), light the candle and, with a steady hand, start pouring the wine into the funnel or directly into the wine decanter. Do not stop pouring until you see the sediments getting too close to the neck of the wine bottle.
  5. Let the wine rest in the decanter for a bit (30-60 minutes) and serve.

My Personal Decanting Method for Old, Vintage Wines

I use the traditional decanting method for old, vintage wines, but I like to start a week in advance.

  1. First, I take the wine bottle from my wine cellar then let it stand in an upright position for two days. I make sure that the wine bottle is away from light throughout this time.
  2. After two days, I open the wine bottle, place it on the decanting cradle, light the candle, and then pour the wine into the decanter.
  3. I wash the wine bottle, find a new cork if the one I’ve just removed is too damaged, funnel all but one small glass of the wine back into the now clean bottle, spray inert aerosol gas (I use Private Preserve) into the bottle, and put the cork back on.
  4. I let the bottle stand in an upright position until I am ready to serve the wine a few days later.

Why do I follow this intricate decanting process? Why decant the wine then pour it back into the bottle a few days before actual serving? I have two main reasons:

First, this decanting process allows the wine to clear up even more. In the process of pouring wine into the decanter, the smaller sediments may have been stirred up. My decanting method gives these sediments time to resettle.

Second, this process also gives me the opportunity to taste the wine and detect faults, if any. I would really hate to find out on the day of serving that the great wine I told all my friends about is faulty. Imagine holding a party for the express purpose of letting other wine lovers sample a special wine. On the day of the tasting, you discover that the wine you’re planning to serve – the wine that is the main reason for the wine tasting party – is actually faulty. In that case, you’ll have to find a replacement right away, and you probably won’t have time to decant your replacement wine properly. A mistake like this can definitely ruin your party.

My personal method of decanting old, vintage wines is tedious, I admit, but it just goes to show how much I really love fine wines.

The Slam Dunk Decanting Method

The slam dunk method is best used on younger wines that have no visible sediments. In this case, decanting is done mainly to aerate the wine. The slam dunk method lets the wine breathe by almost breaking it up.

I use this wine decanting technique when serving young wines with big tannins, which are still immature and closed up. After pouring the wine into the decanter, I let it sit there for at least an hour or two before serving.

Note: You can now buy aerating gadgets (i.e. wine aerator) that you can use to open up wine. These gadgets do the trick, and they work even faster than dumping the wine into a decanter.

I will end my discussion of wine decanting here. I hope that you have learned something from this post and that the next time you’re serving and decanting wine, you will be able to apply the wine decanting techniques discussed here.