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Decanting, demystified

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Robert Morris is owner and manager at East Valley restaurants Cork, BLD and Stax Burger Bistro. Reach him at (480) 883-3773 or CorkRestaurant.net.

Posted: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 4:00 pm

What is decanting? Simply put, decanting wine means to transfer the contents of the bottle to a decanter prior to serving. We could probably be doing a lot more decanting than we are, but maybe people’s confusion or lack of know-how keeps them from doing so. I hope to dispel some of that confusion today.

Decanting serves two main purposes: First, it aids in removing sediment from wine so that you don’t end up drinking it (which can be unpleasant). Second, it aerates the wine, which means introducing the wine to oxygen, thus aging the wine a little and making it more palatable.

Let’s talk about sediment removal first. Sediment is made up of the blackish specks that look like dirt that you find in older bottles of red wine. These bits can be comprised of dead yeast cells, grape skins, tannins and other solid matter that wasn’t removed after the fermentation process and gradually settled to the bottom of the bottle. You won’t find sediment in white wine or a new bottle of red wine.

If you think a bottle has a lot of sediment (you can usually see it if there is a lot of it), stand it upright for several hours to let the sediment settle to the bottom of the bottle. (If you’ve been storing the bottle on its side, the sediment has probably already settled, so be careful not to move it too much and disturb the sediment. If you are transporting the bottle, or have already turned it upright to look at it, you’ll want to let it settle again before opening.)

Decanters are usually clear glass or crystal, and they’re specially shaped to help trap sediment so that it can’t get into your glass. Hold the decanter almost horizontally, and slowly pour the wine into the decanter. The idea is to trap most of the sediment in the neck of the wine bottle. Sometimes, people will use a lit candle under the neck of the bottle to help them see the sediment. It is not uncommon to leave a few ounces of wine in the bottle.

Let the wine rest in the decanter about 30 minutes before serving. This allows any sediment that may have made its way into the decanter to settle to the bottom. Pour slowly from the decanter to serve.

Generally, people associate decanting with older wines, probably because of the sediment issue. However, a properly aged bottle won’t really need the other benefit of decanting: the “opening up.”

When drinking a younger wine with huge tannins, decanting can help you achieve smoothness and make the wine more drinkable.

In this case, tip the bottle of wine upside down over the decanter and let the wine flow freely down the sides of the decanter.

Once the wine is inside, feel free to swish it around as much as you like to incorporate more air. The fun thing about this is that you can keep trying the wine as you go and see how it changes.

That little bit of aerating might not sound like much, but think about what happens when you cut an apple. After 10 minutes or so, the fruit begins to darken; that small amount of time exposed to air starts to oxidize the fruit.

Even if you don’t own a decanter, I encourage you to try this little experiment: Take any bottle of red wine, open it and immediately pour into two glasses. Leave one of the glasses alone, but pour the wine from the second glass back and forth into a third, empty glass a few times.

Taste the wine to see how it has changed from the introduction of oxygen. Go back to the first glass to see how it tasted originally. My wife showed this trick to my father-in-law a few years ago, and he was amazed.

• Robert Morris is owner and manager at East Valley restaurants Cork, BLD and Stax Burger Bistro. Reach him at (480) 883-3773 or CorkRestaurant.net

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