There are essentially two reasons why you might want to decant wine and these relate to separating sediment from the body of the wine and aerating the wine. With modern winemaking there is typically less sediment that forms as wines age however there is still some sediment and therefore a need to decant wine. The other reason is to aerate the wine, or to let it breathe.
To really enjoy a fine wine, you will not want it to take on an astringent taste or spoil the look of the wine, so decanting is an effective way of ensuring that sediment is separated from the wine. The idea is to transfer the clear, sediment free wine into a decanter, leaving the sediment behind in the bottle. Old wines typically have a lot of sediment or the sediment may have formed due to poor filtering or clarification when the wine was being made.
To aerate wine, decanting is used as a means of allowing a wine to breathe, which simply means that air is brought into contact with the wine as a means of releasing its unique aromas. Aerating a wine is also undertaken in the hope that contact with the air will assist to smooth out the taste of tannins. Some wine experts advocate that swirling the wine in your glass will have the same effect, while others believe that the act of decanting the wine into an appropriately shaped decanter is the best way to aerate wine.
How to Decant Wine
The first step is to ensure that you have a decanter which has a wide bottom and narrow neck which is made of undecorated glass or crystal. This is the receptacle which will hold your decanted wine and from which it will be served. If you are decanting to remove sediment it’s a good idea to stand the bottle in an upright position for a couple of days because it will allow the sediment to settle to the bottom of the bottle. This is an important step as to when to decant wine so you can plan the decanting around the time you would like to drink the wine.
After the bottle has rested in an upright position for a couple of days, you can remove the cork and carefully wipe away any sediment which may have collected in the neck of the bottle. You then carefully and slowly pour the wine from the bottle into the decanter and ensure you stop pouring once you see sediment in the neck of the bottle. You can decant over a lighted candle which will help you to see when the sediment has reached the neck or the bottle.
While wine is aging it needs to be protected from air however when it is time to drink it, contact with air is a good thing because it can assist with bringing out the full range of aromas of the wine. The base of your decanter should be broad because this is the shape which will allow air to come into contact with the most amount of wine. Again, the idea is to transfer the contents of the wine bottle carefully into the decanter.
When to decant wine is also something which needs to be planned carefully if you are decanting for aeration, because it will need to sit for ½ hour to two hours, depending on the age of the wine. If your wine is an old wine, it should not be decanted for longer than 2 hours maximum prior to drinking so that the maximum amount of flavor is released for you to enjoy.
If you have gone to the trouble of purchasing some good wines and learning a little about wine in general, then you probably realize that decanting is an important part of the process. There are several reasons for this; however, it’s best to start off by understanding that decanting is primarily about removing sediment from the wine. It also assists the aerating process in that a wine needs to be exposed to the air in order to bring out its flavors and aromas. It has been said though, that white wines do not need to be decanted, but this is a matter of personal taste and something an individual connoisseur needs to establish for themselves.
Why You Should Decant
As mentioned above, the primary reason for decanting is to remove sediment from wine, usually red wines. The reason for this is that wines have a variety of organic matter in them such as grape skins and yeast. Tiny particles but nevertheless, it is there and as the wine ages, they settle from the wine and need to be removed prior to drinking. It is the red wines which have a greater percentage of skin contact which tend to have the most sediment and it becomes more noticeable as the wine ages. So the presence of the sediment is the primary reason for decanting. Aerating the wine is the other.
How to Decant
To achieve the best results, there is a specific technique to follow. You will have noticed that during the storage process, the wine will have been stored in a certain position. It is imperative that you maintain the same side facing down while you are decanting to avoid mixing the sediment into the wine. Then pour the wine very slowly into the decanter while holding back the sediment and not pouring it into the decanter as well. The traditional method of decanting involved holding a candle close to the wine bottle and decanter, when the sediment could be seen at the neck of the bottle, it was time to stop pouring. The rule of thumb was to leave the last 1½ inches of wine in the bottle with the sediment. Modern decanting involves using an aerating funnel which has the added benefit of filtering out the sediment.
When to Decant
This is very much related to the type of wine being decanted and how much time it is likely to need for the aeration process. In addition to removing sediment, aeration occurs with decanting. Coming into contact with air will release the aromatic properties of a wine. Approximately 1 hour prior to drinking the wine will provide optimum aeration, bearing in mind that the older the wine, the less aeration is required. An aged wine will only need a few minutes exposure to the air. You can observe the change in the flavor of the wine over the course of a meal as the air exposure time increases. Too much air exposure will result in a very tart, vinegary taste – which is not advisable, so it is best to either seal or refrigerate the wine, or drink it while its flavors are at their very best.
It’s a good idea to stand a bottle upright for a minimum of 24 hours and maximum of 36 hours prior to enjoying a wine to allow the sediment to settle to the bottom of the bottle prior to decanting. Timing is always important because the decanting and aeration process should be carried out in such a way so as to achieve the optimum flavor during the course of a meal, allowing for the type and age of the wine being consumed.
For those that are new to the great taste of wine and the health benefits wine can provide, or those that have been drinking and savoring wine for years and now want to start collecting and aging wine but don’t know how to properly store that bottle of expensive wine, I will give you tips so you can maintain and improve the taste of your wine. These are some of the factors you need to consider.
Cleanliness and proper ventilation
It is very important that you store your wine in a clean area with plenty of ventilation. Poor ventilation will affect the taste and how the wine ages. A poorly ventilated area with variations in temperature can ruin a great wine. Keep the area clean and dusted, this will keep the label in good condition if you decide to sell the wine at a later date. A poorly cared for label can also affect its resale value.
Be sure the wine is stored in an area away from bright light, it is best to store the wine where light is at a minimum. Light can, over many years can affect the wine’s taste, especially if the wine is exposed to sunlight and the Sun’s ultra violet light. Sunlight can also fade the label.
Storing Wine at the Proper Angle
Always store wine in a horizontal position. This allows the wine to stay in contact with the cork and keep the cork from drying out and shrinking thereby allowing air into the bottle and ruining the wine. If you are buying the wine by the case, remove the wine from the box and store it on a nice wine rack.
Store wine in a vibration free environment. Shaking wine has the potential of speeding up the chemical process of aging. You usually only have to be concerned about this if you are planning to store wines for long periods of time.
A humidity level between 65 and 75% is perfect for storing wine. If you live is a low humidity area, you can leave a pan of water in room or get a humidifier. Humidity that is too low for a long period of time has the potential to dry out the cork and let air into the bottle. If your humidity is higher than 75% on a regular basis, then you might consider a dehumidifier.
The optimum temperature for aging wine is between 50 and 60 degrees, give or take. Optimally 55 F is perfect. A temperature too low can slow down the natural aging process and a temperature too high will speed it up. The temperature should not vary much more than 5F to 10F within the optimal temperature range year around.
The best advice is to try to find a healthy balance with all of the wine storage tips outlined in this article. This will help you maintain your cherished wine and give it the optimum aging storage leading to a wonderful aged wine that you can enjoy, or an investment that will continue to appreciate. Wine storage, like most wine related activities is something that can be learned and implemented.
Wine is a complex substance. Open a bottle of it now, and it may taste fine. Open a bottle of the same wine several years from now, and the wine becomes something else entirely. Rough edges in the flavor will have smoothed out and the overall flavor of the wine will be more balanced and mellow.
Why age wine?
Well, as stated above, the many components of the wine will mellow out over time, and bring a harmonious balance to the flavor of the wine. The tannins, present in red wine, bring a bitter and astringent flavor. Given time, the tannins help to age the wine. As wine ages, the tannins precipitate out of the wine, leaving a smoother and more mellow flavor. As the wine ages, the acids will lose a bit of their bite, allowing the fruit to come out more. As the components of the wine age, they also bring more complexity to the flavor. What you end up with after several years of proper aging is a complex and balanced wine.
What wines should be aged?
There are certain guidelines as to what wines should and should not be aged, but they are simply guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Most wines from California are meant to be consumed immediately, and should not be aged. Most white wines should not be aged, as they have a lower amount of tannins than red wine. It is the tannins that are present in red wine that allow the wine to age well. There are a few white wines, however that will improve with a couple of years of aging. Most wines under $25 don’t need to be aged. Many French wines are meant to age and mature over several years. There are exceptions to these rules. Go into a wine shop, and ask which wines they would recommend for aging. They can recommend several good wines, along with some ideas of how long to age the wine.
How do I age wine?
Proper storage is essential for a wine to age well. Cooler temperatures slow down the aging process, allowing time for the complexity of the wine to develop. The wine should be stored at a constant temperature of 50-60 degrees F. Fluctuating temperatures will cause the wine and the cork to expand and contract, loosening the cork, and exposing the wine to oxygen. The wine should be stored on it’s side, so that the wine is in contact with the cork, preventing it from drying out. The storage area should be dark, and have plenty of moisture to keep the cork from drying, which may loosen it, and subject the wine to oxidation.
Once you have a proper storage area for your wine, go to your local wine shop, and get their recommendations on a good aging wine. Buy a case of wine, and then open up one of the bottles when you get home and taste it. Put the rest of the bottles in storage, and start opening them after a couple of years, and note how the flavors and the complexity of the wine have changed. A new bottle of wine may be good, but a properly aged bottle is even better.
You’re branching out and want to choose a more sophisticated wine, maybe a red wine. You wonder, What do all the terms mean? Is it better to buy a wine that has a specific name or are blends okay? If this is your time to step beyond $2 bottles of wine into the exciting “world of wine” –know that enjoying the “fruit on the vine” doesn’t have to be a frightening pursuit. Don’t be intimidated by all the pretense! Learning about different kinds of wine should be a pleasurable experience! There are less rules then you think! Let’s discover a couple of terms.
What Is a “Varietal”?
It’s simple. The name of the wine is the name of the type of grape in the bottle. For instance, the grapes are called “Cabernet Sauvignon” or “Zinfandel” or “Pinot Noir” and each grape has it’s own distinct flavor, color, size, and characteristics; these are different varieties. When speaking of a “Varietal” one is referencing the grape variety predominantly present in the bottle. To be distinguished as a Varietal, the wine label must contain the originating appellation (where the named grape was picked) and contain 75% of said grape. Although all wines/winemakers are not created equal, you can trust that varietals should be similar. Thus, there is a taste profile you can identify when planning your wines for food pairing.
A fun exercise you might try is to buy different labels of one varietal and do a “side-by-side” comparison to find their unique distinctions. Another fun side-by-side comparison is using the same Varietals from one vineyard but from different years and discover for yourself how they are different or how they are similar. Remember to use red wine glasses to give it the best possible performance. Try decanting, as well, and notice the difference it can make. (Most wines benefit from decanting.)
What are “Blends”? Are Varietals Better?
Winemakers will use grapes from different sources to make their best possible wine. They may blend a sweeter grape to offset a more bitter grape, bolder grape to accent a lighter one, etc. However, if they use less than 75% of one grape, they can no longer call it by a varietal name. Thus, they will call it a “Blend” , “Table Wine” or “Red Wine from (region/state/country)”. Some might look down their noses at blends, but if you think about it, if you’re mixing the best grapes with the best grapes, isn’t that a good thing? The only drawback would be when comparing because one “red wine” and another “red wine” can be vastly different. Start checking out labels and note the different varieties present in the bottle.
What is a Reserved Wine or a Library Wine?
When looking at a label, one winery may have two varietals from the same year, but one is called a Reserve ( usually a little pricier) and you wonder, “What’s the difference?” Often, winemakers make a “Reserve” wine from the same harvest or bottling (Reserving some) and treat it “special.” The wine may be aged longer, the grapes handpicked, etc.). There is no “set in stone” rules that make it a “Reserve”, just what the winemaker deems worthy. However, there is usually a good reason they call it a Reserve, so often it is worth a try.
A Library Wine is one where smaller batches of wine are set a part for a certain amount to be aged longer. This would imply that the quality of the wine has improved with the “laying down” (mellowing or becoming more full-bodied) and also will increase in cost (but hopefully in quality as well.)
Are More Expensive Wines Better?
Yes and no. Price is nearly a random thing. The economy, availability, hierarchy, vintage, among other things, all have a part to play. Sometimes higher priced wines are just higher priced for no apparent reason. That said, you can taste a difference in wines that have aged longer, have been picked at the right time or right climate, during better years of harvest or who have winemakers with great skill, this, and amount of aging, all factors into the price of wine. Smaller vineyards or boutique shops usually charge more because their own cost in making/purchasing is higher. However, some wineries have a great policy that wine should be affordable. Use price as a very loose parameter and experiment. Start with low priced wine and work your way up. Treat yourself once in awhile to something above your typical price range. Remember that the best judge is your mouth–the taste is what matters. A wine you enjoy may not be the one another chooses.
The palette is a fickle thing that changes, as well; a wine you adored two years ago may no longer taste good to you. The only true test is trying different kinds of wine, in different circumstances, with different foods, at different times and in different atmospheres (yes, it can make a difference.)
Should Red Wine Always Be Served With Red Meat and White Wine With Seafood/Chicken?
Not necessarily. However, there’s a reason this has been a general rule. Most red meats and the way in which we prepare the meat demand a hearty, strong, and bold red wine to compliment.; Whereas white meats are mild in flavor and welcome a crisp, citrusy or rich buttery white wine as a companion. But what about a heavy garlicky chicken or spicy Cajun shrimp? What of surf and turf? (And what about our vegetarian friends, would they be stuck with white wine all the time? I think many would protest.) The taste of the dish and the taste of the consumer means more than the protein. The key is to drink what you like and experiment with different pairings.
Try different foods with different wines and you’ll quickly discover what you like with which food. Try a small taste of your wine and notice its complexities first. Then take a taste of the food followed with a taste of the wine. How has it changed? This is a fun exercise, too!
Common Red Wines
Here is a very short list of Red Wines for starters with common characteristics:
(Remember, these are general guidelines.)
Attention: The internal data of table “1” is corrupted!
Just as in life, don’t gain knowledge for knowledge’s sake, apply your information and enjoy the journey.
Here are a few tips for making the trip more fun.
Ask questions. Especially of those more experienced. Others love to give advice.
When choosing a bottle at a wine bar or restaurant, ask for recommendations. (They pay guys to figure this stuff out).
Go to wine tastings. This is a fun way to try wines you wouldn’t normally pick up because of ignorance or price. Plus, most tasting room “pourers” love to educate (Bonus Tip: Ask them their favorites, what they like to serve, etc.).
When you are in the tasting room, try not to read the tasting notes before you taste—think, what do I smell? What do I taste? Then look at the notes to compare.
Write down what you like and don’t like. Use a wine journal (or use your smart phone) and take notes, take pictures; remembering what you enjoyed is harder than you think when you are standing looking at a bazillion wine bottles side by side.
Have wine tasting parties and try the examples of side by sides above (one varietal but different wineries, same winery different varietals, decanting) or stage blind tastings.
Don’t skip your seeing, swirling and smelling before sipping. Your mouth only gives you 4 tastes (sour, sweet, salty & bitter) the rest of the “taste” comes from your sense of smell, so make sure your red wine glasses give you ample nose room.
Some wine drinkers like to savor the effects of consuming wine with little or no regard for subtle nuances of flavor and would even knowledgeably declare that it all tastes the same after several glasses. However, this is definitely not the case and if you enjoy good wines, you owe it to yourself and the wine, to savor and enjoy the many elements that work together to ultimately result in a fine tasting wine. There are ways though, to improve the taste of your wine and this can be achieved by understanding and working with temperature, air and light. These are the three elements which can affect how a wine will taste and they can be manipulated to bring out the best in a wine.
1. Temperature Must be Optimal For Serving
Common knowledge has it that a red wine should be served at room temperature while a white wine should be chilled. There is an element of truth in this, however it is only the beginning, particularly in regard to red wines. Each wine has it’s own optimal temperature and will vary with different grape varieties and the region where they were grown. For example, a full flavored Bordeaux should be served at 65 degrees F while a light Beaujolais should be served at 54 degrees F. Likewise for storing wines. For red wines, it should be between 52 – 65 degrees F, while for white wines, it should be between 45- 50 degrees F. You can find a detailed list of serving temperatures for various wines at this website: http://www.skybarhome.com/about-wine/wine-serving-temperatures/wine-serving-temperatures.html
2. Correct Aerating and Decanting
Correctly aerating a wine will improve it’s taste. Essentially, it involves allowing the wine to ‘breath’ by exposing it to air prior to drinking it. Young wines can often have high levels of carbon dioxide and exposure to air can reduce this and allow their true flavor to come through. This will work well for most young red wines and can also have a similar effect on young white wines. Young wines will need up to two hours to fully aerate, although a mature wine should only need one hour. For aged wines, a few minutes only is recommended. Decanting with the aid of an aerating funnel is the best way to aerate a wine, although electronic aeration is commonly used these days.
3. Wine Glasses Should Be Wine Specific
Yes, the way in which wine is tasted can also enhance its flavor. Wine glasses are shaped so as to direct the wine to precisely the right place on one’s tongue and to allow the aroma to waft gently up the nose. This is why a full flavored red wine should be tasted from a large wine glass. It also allows for full aeration. With white wines, reducing the surface area can create a more concentrated funnel through which delicate aromas can be savored and tasted. Keeping a collection of wine glasses suited for reds and whites will ensure you experience maximum aroma and flavor from either wine. A tip for serving red wine, is to only fill the glass to the level of the glass’s greatest diameter because this will provide excellent aeration and thus improve taste.
The correct combination of wine glass, aeration and temperature can bring about the optimal taste and aroma experience for both red and white wines. So yes, you can make your wine taste better but it is always a good idea to start out with a good wine in the first place so that you actually have something to improve upon.
There is a time honored tradition to follow when it comes to wine tasting and there are a series of steps to follow if you are serious about understanding the aromas and tastes that are associated with the myriad of wines that are just waiting for you to try. It is a complex process with many facets however if you are just starting out with wine tasting, you can break the process down into several steps that will ensure your path from wine tasting for beginners to that of a more advanced taster, occurs reasonable quickly.
Step 1 – Look at the Wine
You should take note of the color of the wine as it sits in the glass, preferably against a white background. A white tablecloth or napkin is ideal for this. Be sure to check the color at the edge of the glass and then tilt it gently to see if the color changes between the edge and the center of the glass. You should look for the clarity of the color as well as saturation or depth, and intensity while noting that the depth and intensity of the color do not necessarily equate with quality.
Step 2 – Smell the Wine
After you have had a good look at the wine, bring the glass to within a few inches of your nose and breathe in while identifying the main scent. Then place your nose closer into the glass and inhale again. Aside from checking for any odors that could indicate a spoiled wine (aka corked), you should try to identify the predominant scent. It could be fruity, cheesy, spicy, woody, flowery or any of the other countless scents that can be present in a particular wine. Be aware of any alcohol smell too and if any are present, it should not be overpowering.
Step 3 – Let the Wine Breath
This step involves swirling the wine around in the glass because this will expose it to air. The air can act to bring out even more scents in the wine because the act of swirling wine and allowing it to spread over the interior of the glass increases the wine’s surface area. Aromas in the wine will open up as the wine becomes exposed to the oxygen. It is also worth noting how the wine runs back down into the glass as you swirl it around. It will run quickly or perhaps slowly and is known as viscosity. A viscous wine may be more full bodied.
Step 4 – Taste!
Finally you get to taste the wine, having already noted some information about it from the previous steps. Simply take some wine into your mouth along with some air and allow it move over your tongue as well as all around the inside of your mouth. Take note of its texture, body and weight as well as any features such as smoothness or tartness. While savoring the tastes you should also ascertain if they align with the aromas you smelled a little earlier.
Step 5 – Swallow the Wine?
This last step involves either swallowing the wine in your mouth or spitting it a spittoon provided for the purpose. It is a personal choice but obviously if you are driving, the spittoon option is the one to take. The other thing to consider is that swallowing many samples will result in you becoming tipsy and perhaps not as discerning during the tasting process as you were when you started out. Either way, the experience should be fun and you can drink water between wines to cleanse your palette.
These steps will guide through the wine tasting for beginners stage of your journey to being a more experienced wine taster. There are additional steps to consider once you are ready to move past the learning stage however that is a topic for another time. Learning about the varieties of aromas and tastes of wines should be an experience to enjoy and a little knowledge of the process should ensure this is indeed so.