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.