Should I decant?

Give the wine a little swirl in a glass
Give the wine a little swirl in a glass

The Telegraph recently featured a report on whether a wine ought to be decanted before being drunk. You can read the full article here, but its writer, Victoria Moore, made it clear that she isn’t particularly in favour of decanting. Nonetheless she highlights some scenarios in which a wine can benefit from this process. She’s absolutely right that decanting is a personal preference and many of us that work in the industry will have had good and bad experiences of it. Not every fine wine will necessarily benefit — and it’s quite often the wines that we might not expect that will benefit the most. If you’re unsure whether you ought to decant or not, the following pointers might help you decide:

Pour a little first

Even if your wine is relatively inexpensive, if it’s suffering from a bit of bottle stink, decanting it might be just the ticket to shift any sulphurous odours it retains. Give it a little swirl in a glass before making a decision, and if you detect bottle stink, this is a candidate for decanting. Similarly if its flavours are muted, it will probably benefit from the aeration that decanting provides.

Decant with care

A wine that has been silently slumbering in your cellar for years won’t thank you for being rudely awakened. Treat the wine with respect and pour it gently into the vessel of choice rather than sloshing it vigorously.

Try it both ways

Wines will respond differently to decanting depending on their age and level of maturity. If you’ve got a large quantity of a wine in the cellar that you’re not sure about decanting, use your first bottle as an experiment. Decant half of it and leave the other half in the bottle, and try drinking it both ways. You might find that the decanted half tastes more open and vibrant, or if it’s an old wine you might find that decanting makes it seem tired and flat.

Choose the right decanter

If the purpose of using a decanter is to aerate the wine, it should maximise the surface area of the wine that is exposed to the air. Avoid decanters that are aesthetically pleasing but don’t actually offer any benefit.

Take good care of your decanter

Decanters are notoriously hard to clean and won’t thank you for leaving residual wine in them overnight. Make sure you rinse your decanter with water after use, and you can even purchase decanter brushes that will help you to deal with the tricky shape. Choose cleaning products with care (some good advice can be found here) and be sure to rinse thoroughly.

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