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When Not to Use a Wine Decanter

When Not to Use a Wine Decanter

Do we really need a decanter for decanting? Technically, no. A decanter is a fancy name for a glass jug or a carafe. It’s the decanting that matters. Decanting is the process of transferring the liquid from one glass container to another, typically from bottle to decanter.

Although decanting is not necessary for the majority of wines, it serves the aesthetic purpose, so you might feel special after witnessing a waiter performing the “mystic” ritual of decanting. The only mystery here is which wine to decant and how to do it.

Can I perform a free fall spill into the decanter or do I need to pour it slowly? Decanter was once used almost exclusively to separate the sediment from the wine that was served. To achieve this, slow pouring is required. To the point when the sediment reaches the neck of the bottle. corny wine decanter photo

Unfortunately, not too many available wines require this treatment as it calls for a traditionally made wine without filtration, and sufficiently aged to develop such sediments. 

Such wines are also decanted for the similar reason that we swirl wine in the glass – to expose it to the air to open up the flavors, or more poetically, “to allow the wine to breathe”. And here lies the problem with decanting – it can be a dangerous tool. If you keep a delicate old wine for too long in a wine decanter, where a large surface is exposed to the air, it might “disappear”. Instead of opening up, it will fade, irreversibly. And that wouldn’t be anything short of a disaster.

However, if you hold your wine in a decanter too short, it will have no effect. Except, of course, for the sake of appearance. If you plan to decant for half an hour or less, perhaps it is better to let the wine form in the wine glass. A proper wine glass will achieve the aeration better than a decanter. You just need to be patient enough to wait.glassblower shaping glass blowpipe

Is there a recipe? Can there be a simple solution or an equation we could print on every bottle, such as “if aged for 10.5 years, decant for exactly 118 minutes”? Guess not. 

The only certainty is that there is no need for decanting fresh white wines and most sparkling wines. For everything else, there are many exceptions to the rule, as some young light bodied reds might need time to open up just because they are opened too early for their optimal drinking window. Many structured white wines could benefit from aeration in a decanter by definition, but some won’t. You are essentially deliberately oxidizing your wine in order to release a genie from the bottle.

Instead of a conclusion, know that whatever kind of decanter you are using is less important. It’s how you use your tool that matters. A wine carafe can do the trick practically as easily as an elaborate wine decanter shaped as a swan, or a flamingo, or any other glass modeling perversion, but it would certainly look less glamorous 🙂

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