Monthly Archives: June 2010

Decanting Wine – Improving Inexpensive Wines

Some think that decanting is only for removing sediment from expensive wines.

Rather than lecturing another reason to use a decanter, I conducted an experiment with a decanter, some inexpensive wines, and an unsuspecting wine group.

I presented each attendee with two glasses.  One held wine poured straight from the bottle, and the other wine poured from a decanter into which I had poured the same wine an hour earlier.

Everyone was convinced that we were drinking two different wines, the difference was that amazing. One was smooth and had soft tannins, with distinct aromas and flavors, while the other was harsh and harder to analyze.

Decanters are helpful for TWO reasons:

  • Decanting wine off of sediment
  • Allowing younger or tightly wound wines to “open-up”
  • and a third, which we will get to later…

You may have heard this before, but may wonder, “What does it mean to let wine breathe? And why are people swirling their wine acting pretentious?”

Wine making 101 – grapes are picked and squashed giving us grape juice. While grape juice can taste pretty good, it is kind of flat. It smells like grapes, and tastes like grapes.  So, we mix in some yeast and magic starts to happen.

The acids, sugars, yeasts, and chemical compounds called polyphenols interact during fermentation and aging to create new smells and flavors such as tropical fruit, honey, blackcurrant bud, chocolate, coffee, and over 200 other aromas, called esters.  The possible esters present in a wine are based on many different factors, such as varietal, climate, types of yeast, and many, many other factors.  Let’s get back to letting a wine open up.

When a bottle is first uncorked (or unscrewed), you can think of all these esters as being bundled tightly together – for lack of a better analogy, perhaps as a rubber band ball.  Trying to get a sense of the aromatic make up of the wine can be difficult; it might hit you like a solid indistinguishable mass.

With red wines in particular, the mouth-feel may be very harsh and tannic.

As we swirl the wine, we allow oxygen to get in there and start loosening things up. We are able to start picking up some of the distinguishable flavors and in the case of tannins, they can become softer and more velvety on your tongue.

In a glass alone, this process can take quite some time.  Swirling, swirling, swirling.  Who can wait that long to hold this nectar of the Gods in your hand and … not drink it?  While it can be interesting to keep sampling a wine to see how it changes as it opens up, sometimes we just want to jump to the good stuff.

Enter, the decanter.

Pouring the wine into a decanter can help offset the temptation to down this tightly wound wine, and also can give us more surface area to let the wine breathe.

You can pour wine into a decanter an hour before guests arrive and treat them to an incredible experience. This can greatly improve younger wines – and more affordable wines – that may first exhibit harsh tannins.

A word of warning, ALWAYS test your wine before decanting! Sometimes, older wines may have aged gracefully and are in fact very delicate. Decanting may cause them to lose their aromas and flavors.

Try it out yourself.  Find a wine that is “tight” and pour it in a decanter. Check it after 30 minutes, after an hour.   Sometimes, it may take longer. I once forgot to cap a wine I had opened, and tried it again 2 days later – it was AMAZING how much it improved.  It seemed to have turned my $11.99 Pinot Noir into something much more valuable.

Pour a glass from the bottle and another from the decanter and see if you can tell a difference. 

The “magic” for transforming wine – more esters are released from decanters than a wine glass alone.

Another experiment you might try is to pour boxed wine into a decanter before guests arrive. This has been one of my favorite things to do lately. There is a stigma on boxed wines, even though many wineries are producing good quality wines.

I love the shock value when attendees fall for a wine, and then I pull out the box. It’s amazing how this trick has helped people get past their preconceived notions.

I prefer a decanter with a nice wide bottom, allowing for more surface area for the air to hit the wine. Check out the Infinity Decanter in the Wine Toys section.