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Red Wine Decanter - How to Decant Wine

Updated on December 30, 2013

 Why bother to decant red wine, surely all wines today are sold ready to drink?  Well, yes and no.  It is true that years ago wine that was drunk straight from the barrel or bottle had much more sediment in it, sediment that today is filtered out using isinglass (from fish) bentonite clay, egg white, or mechanical filters.  Such wines are crystal clear, but have lost a little flavour.  So why decant?  For me there are two main reasons:

 Sometimes you might buy a young wine which is really tannic, the sort of wine that makes your ears smile and takes the enamel off your teeth.  Such a wine can often benfit from being decanted, the decanter allowing a large surface area contact with air, thus letting more complex flavours to develop and the wine to mellow.  In this case sediment isn't the main reason, but flavour is.

Secondly, you might buy a good bottle of red wine that has been aged in the bottle for several years, and this may develop sediment (if you want to sound like a wine buff, the correct terminology is to 'throw a sediemnt').  in fact, I bought a lovely Bordeaux the other week, didn't take the time to decant it and was rewarded with a couple of big mouthfulls of gritty crystals - not pleasant.  Decanting a wine of this sort allows the really complex flavours to come out and gets rid of the sludge.

 I could add a third reason; there are some absolutely gorgeous wine decanters out there and decanting the wine then serving from a beautiful decanter are part of the whole ritual of drinking really good wine.

if you're stuck for a Christmas gift for a wine buff, you can't go far wrong with a decanter.  A good red wine decanter should have a fat, round, womanly base, definitely don't buy a square decanter, you want a good surface area of wine in contact with the air.

How to Decant Wine

First you need to put together your equipment. You'll need a sharp knife, or a sommelier set (learn more here), a corkscrew and a torch or candle. I make the whole ritual of decanting more enjoyable by using a really pretty blown glass oil lamp (Iknow, I know, people tell me I should get out more!).

Do You Decant?

Do you bother to decant red wine?

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 First remove all of the capsule (the covering on the bottle neck).  It needs to be removed in its entirety so that you have a good view of the bottle neck.  Uncork the wine and light your candle (torch, tea light, oil lamp - whatever), then holding the decanter in one hand at an angle, and the bottle in the other, pour the wine slowly and smoothly from the bottle into the decanter, ensuring that the bottle neck is close to your light source.  Stop decanting at the first sign of sediment in the bottle neck.

You should end up with a decanter of crystal clear ruby wine and a bottle with half a glass of sludge.  in our household nothing is wasted, and the sludge goes into sauces or gravy.  if you can't hold the decanter in one hand, rest it on a work surface and just tilt it.

How Many Red Wine Decanters?

 For me, personally, there can never be too many red wine decanters.  It's nice to have a fairly ordinary clear glass carafe for days when your'e not having anything too special.  Decanting a young wine, for example doesn't require the candle and so much care, because you're not worried about sediment, it's all about flavour, so quickly sloshing it into an ordinary container is OK.  However, if I'm having a really good bottle of wine (learn more here), then I like to use something really special, and have quite a little collection going on!


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