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The Swig - To decant, or not decant. Is it a question?

Posted by Ben Hughes on

In my younger days as a chef in a fancy pants restaurant, I remember decanting occurring when an expensive wine was ordered which afforded the lucky customer their own private performance.

The wine would be ceremonially delivered to the table, coated in a thin layer of cellar dust.  The label would be presented to the customer and then the ceremony would commence.  The chief Sommelier would enter, wafting in like a wizard of wine, adorned in white gloves, dinner suit and sporting the silver chalice denoting his wizardriness. The master deftly produced the ceremonial wine knife and removed the bottle’s capsule just below the lip, the room quietened as the cork was exposed and the wine wizard opened the cork screw and began the methodical twists. The cork which was then removed in a slow, single motion; the last few millimetres removed using thumb and forefinger to avoid the ‘pop’ sound which would denote an amateur.  Next a restaurant slave would present a fine, crystalline decanter and a candle, then the master would begin. 

With pursed lips, squinted eye and steady hand, he would begin to pour; all eyes watched in hushed awe as the wine elegantly streamed from bottle to decanter in an uninterrupted stream, culminating in a swirling rouge ballet, until finally, at precisely the right moment, he stopped pouring, replaced the near empty bottle and said the magic words ‘Bon Appetit’ then wafted away with self assured grace and dignity.

So, what was all that about?  Theatrical wizardriness nonsense? Well it depends; many people believe that decanting should only be performed on older wines when in fact, decanting of an aged wine may well cause it to oxidise and kick the bucket before your very eyes. The other issue is that older wines that are moving beyond their first decade may well start to throw some sediment (want to know more about sediment? We will tell you all about in a future Swig Blog) However, modern wine making techniques this is no longer such a big a problem.  This stuff (sediment) is a bit gross on the palate and so filtering it with a purpose built tool or an unbleached coffee filter may do the trick or grab a candle as a light source behind the bottle so you can see where the gunk is as you pour it into a decanter, carafe or favourite pyrex jug.

But since the majority of wines are consumed very soon after being brought home, or possibly even earlier than that, I am talking about decanting young wines; let me start with this little gem, aerating younger wines is equivalent to adding a pinch of salt to cooking, to enhance the flavours. (don’t add it to your wine) The test here is, if you pour a glass of wine and there doesn’t seem to be much smell/ aroma/nose/bouquet; Then you need to decant. It’s like opening a very small room that’s been shut up for quite a while.  Simply pour the wine into an open necked vessel of choice and let it sit exposed to the air for a few hours.  Alternatively, there are aerators that will speed up the process quite efficiently.


What we do at our bigger events.
This is three bottles of one of our favourites, Isole e Olena Chianti Classico.

So, let me summarise all this for you. Just as in life, the younger ones need to be shaken up a bit and then ignored to get them to work, decant a young wine by tipping the bottle upside down and let the wine splash into the decanter; while the older wines need to be treated a bit gently so you don’t have to put up with their crap. Older wines are poured slowly into the decanter to ensure that the sediment is left in the bottle. To be honest virtually all red wines will benefit with decanting.

Do you love Big REDS that need decanting? Join us at Big RED
60 Big Reds, 1 afternoon
Saturday 21st July
(Click Big RED to check it out)

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