Decanting Wine

Decanting Wine

By Mark Adams

Mark is a professional winemaker, former winery owner, author and frequent speaker on wine.  He currently teaches wine classes throughout the United States.

Decanting  wine.  What is it?  Is it even necessary?

Well here’s the answers to these age old questions.

Decanting wine is simply pouring you wine into another container with the idea of letting your wine aerate or mix with oxygen. The idea is that “letting the wine breath’ will enhance your flavor.

Do this work?  Does this do any good at all?  Well that’s find out.

Like most traditions, they are based of fact or information that was relevant long ago.  You must realize that wine unlike anything else, maybe besides baseball, is steeped in the past with tradition.

I think most people still want to perceive a certain romantic aspect to wine.

But winemaking, like most industries has modernized. Small local family owned wineries might still use some of the more traditional techniques in making their wines, but they are a minority.

What this really means is that something that was necessary to do to wine a hundred years ago, in most cases is not necessary today.

Long ago, most wines weren’t filtered, meaning that small remaining bits of yeast from the fermentation process would over time settle in the bottom of the bottle.

They have no taste or don’t hurt the wine in any way, but they simply don’t look very appealing. So the low tech answer was to simply pour the wine into another container and leave the small amount of sediment in the bottle. Problem solved.

My guess is that some cleaver marketing type turned this negative into a positive by saying that because they decanted, their wine was better.

When in reality they were just distracting people from the sediment. I mean really, who wants to look at wine cooties? I don’t. I’ll bet you don’t either!

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In modern winemaking, this sediment is filtered out before bottling. So except in rare cases, when it’s the winemakers choice not to filter, you’ll never see sediment in the bottom of modern wine bottles.

So what about decanting to let the wine breath.

Before winemaking was modernized, many wines were aged in caves and sometimes the corks could pick up aromas.

The reason you let the wine breath was to dispel any of those unwanted aromas.  Most bottles didn’t have the plastic bottle caps we use today.

Today, most wines are stored in climate controlled warehouses and capped with a plastic cork cover. In addition to just looking nicer, the plastic bottle cap helps keep the cork and bottle free from outside aromas.

So short of the theatrics of decanting wine, which I must admit can be fun, I’m not a big fan of decanting.

But with that said, it certainly doesn’t hurt the wine and if you enjoy doing it or like entertaining your guests by the process, by all means keep on decanting.

Some of my winemaker friends might disagree with my opinion here and that’s OK.

I would agree that wines that are very expensive and have been made in more traditional ways could benefit from decanting, but the typical wines that we buy for Tuesday night dinner probably won’t.

So whether you choose decanting wine or not is up to you. But at least you now know the reasons behind you choice.