How to Use a Decanter: Getting to the Bottom of Things

How to Use a Decanter

Wine is a drink with a lot of nuances. If someone is interested in enjoying a bottle of quality, vintage wine, then it is recommended that it is consumed in a certain way. Almost ritualistic, wine tasting and drinking is the epitome of refinement and elegance. For the uninitiated, it is important to discuss how to use a decanter and other helpful tips that will help novice users grasp this esoteric side of the beverage world.

Learning how to use a decanter will teach one not to ask silly questions like “What’s that funny-looking bottle vase?” in a restaurant. There is also an important difference between fine glassware and carafes. All of which will be discussed throughout this piece.

What is the Role of the Decanter: An Overview

Comparing a decanter with a carafe is like comparing foie gras to hot dogs. They are both food items, but that is where the similarities stop. As with the glassware, decanters undergo a complex process of glass manipulation; the result being an instrument of precision or a finely-tuned tool for an equally fine elixir.

The decanters allow the wine to breathe properly. A 750-milliliter bottle of wine will fill the decanter up to its most wide point, giving it a big breathing surface. Historically, decanters have been used traditionally to separate the wine from impurities.

That being said, vintage wines or more rough products (even quality products) can still have impurities. Yeast, tartar, grape residue are all common findings on the bottom of natural produce. While these impurities are not pleasant to the eye, a wine that is rich in content will develop a more complex, refined taste. That is why it is better to let a wine sit and enjoy a bigger palette of taste than to drink a glass of clear grape juice.

Unfortunately, unfiltered or slightly filtered wine is rarer these days. Filtration removes any sort of biological contamination and thins the drink; hence, decreasing its aromatic potential in a significant way. This is the result of an overly cautious way of living or people often preferring to buy the “safer” looking products. Thus, wine manufacturers have no choice but to adapt to the demand.

Allowing the Wine to Breathe

More often than not, every wine has a vintage. Someone will rarely purchase a wine made in the current year. This means that the wine must be allowed a breathing period to release all of its aromas. In addition to this, decanting the wine will also allow the chemicals to balance, for a more complex taste.

There is a lot of controversy revolving around the actual changes that take place when wine suffers oxidation. Some are claiming that important changes take place at a molecular level, making the wine softer tasting. On the contrary, others firmly believe that these are just myths. Ultimately, it is the consumer’s choice whether or not to believe these claims.

An aspect that has yet to be agreed on is whether breathing in the decanter or glass has different or identical effects. That being said, there is one thing that’s accepted almost unanimously: decanting is a process that suits the tannin wines (Barolo, Amarone, Porto, Barber Cabernet, usually red wine traditionally made using the Rhône and Bordeaux methods), but not suited for more delicate wines such as Pinot Noir or Chianti.

As for young wines, decanting them is virtually useless. That is because they are in a close-to-natural state of being with flavors that are right on the surface. Hence, the next time a waiter offers to pour year-old wine in a decanter, it’s okay to let that person know that it’s very unnecessary.

How to Use a Decanter: Useful Tips

First off, hold the wine bottle at an angle and check for deposits on the bottom and the curves. If the wine presents sediments, then the consumer must attempt to pour it while keeping the deposits on the lower side of the bottle. Feel free to light a ritualistic candle which will help notice the migration of the particles.

It’s really ill-advised to pour neck through neck. A decanter funnel is inexpensive and will make things easier. If a funnel isn’t available, then the wine should be slowly spilled on the walls of the recipient. This way, the wine gets friction with a big surface of the glass, getting a lot of contact with air in the process. An optional swirl at the end is highly advisable, at least for the dramatic element.

Usually, the process won’t be lengthier than 30 or 60 minutes for most types of wines. There are those who think that certain vintages (20+ years old) require to be opened for a minimum of 12 hours for the best flavor. This decision will fall in the hands of the consumer who should experiment by constantly sipping and evaluating the change in taste.

Decanting Champagne

Champagne can also be decanted. While for different purposes, the process stays the same. Champagne, especially the younger kind, can get very aggressive with its bubbles. Letting it rest for just a couple of minutes will make it go down smoother, especially if it’s served with a dish.

Cleaning the Decanter

The decanter is pretty easy to clean. A nice soak and a rinse will usually be the best way of doing so, but a nice, deep cleaning is recommended once every four or five uses. To do so, avoid using any sort of scented detergents. A mild unscented soap and a good rinse is the best way of keeping the wine free of further contaminants.

Final Thoughts

Every individual is the master of his or her wine. Decanting is proven to be an effective way of enhancing some types of old vintages, as well as eliminating some of the impurities and chemicals associated with lower-end products. Ultimately, a decanter is elegant, adds a bit more to the experience and is a very pretty bottle if nothing else. A good decanter is a small investment which will surely make parties and gatherings a bit more enjoyable. It can even be the perfect icebreaker for new crowds.

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