Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Notes on decanting by Mimi Avery

Decanting was originally to remove the wine from its sediment. Therefore leaving a clear liquid, that could be poured and put down in a vessel on a regular basis without disturbing the sediment each time. More recently it has been found that it also makes the wine taste better.

Anything that aerates a wine – ostensibly speeds up the aging process, 90% of all red wines and oaked white wines would benefit from this – care is needed where the wine is already old, but it sometimes needs decanting to re-fresh. Delicate or young whites do not really benefit. So many red wines are now sold within a year of production that even they would benefit from a little agitation. But isn’t absolutely necessary.

Where it comes into its own is with youthful Bordeaux / Italian / Spanish where the fruit is not as rich due to the cooler climates, therefore the agitation / oxidation melds the tannins and fruit giving a more balanced flavour.

Contraptions – I love decanters – but also if you are showing off it is sometimes fun to pour from the actual bottle so double decanting e.g. into something then back into the original (cleaned to remove any sediment) bottle can allow your guests to see the label and not disturb the sediment every time they pour. Gizmo’s do the job, and are also a talking point, but do not (normally) help with the sediment issue so beware!

When wine is stored for a certain length of time a sediment often forms and drops to the bottom of the bottle. Generally speaking all wines to be “laid down” should be stored on their side, label face up – this is for 3 reasons –

a. it means that the cork remains moist giving a perfectly hermetic seal.
b. It means that if any sediment forms you always know where the sediment is, directly under the label.
c. When you gently remove the wine from the racking you can always see what the wine is, without twisting the bottle round and disturbing the sediment.

Prior to decanting a wine that has been laid down, there are two schools of thought,

The first - I only do in desperation, especially if travelling with the wine to the event - is to stand the wine up for 24 hours, prior to decanting. This allows the sediment to slowly slip down the side of the bottle and “pile up” at the base of the bottle, still on the opposite side to the label, this means that, with the motion of travel, there is less likely hood of the sediment completely stirring up in the wine.

The second, is for decanting in situ, when the wine is brought from its resting place (it should be carried horizontally, and not flipped upright on removal from the rack/case) it can be placed in the corner of an open draw (which will make it approx 45°) or a bottle cradle. This allows the cork to be removed without putting the bottle upright, thus not disturbing the sediment. Once open it is then ready for careful decanting.

Decanting the traditional (candle) or modern (torch) involves a light source pointing upwards from a table, shelf, surface. Hold the bottle to be decanted in one hand with the lower neck over the light source (in the case of candle not close enough to crack the bottle with the heat, and not far enough away that it soots up the bottle!) and the decanter/other vessel in the other hand both should be at approximately 45°. Always have a clean glass near the decanter holding hand.

Wine should be poured in one steady pour from the bottle into the decanter. If done slowly andy sediment will slowly creep down the bottle and congregate in the shoulder of the bottle the wine will slowly flow over this and through the neck of the bottle into the decanter. Once you ahve got as much of the wine out without releasing the sediment slowly put the decanter down and pick up the glass, without disturbing the sediment in the bottle and without putting it near the candle!! Then pick up the glass and pour as much of the remaining liquid in to the glass to the point where you do not want to move any more of the sediment.

The wine is now decanted – taste the wine in the glass to check that the decanter of wine is healthy, this will also allow you to decide if the stopper should be put in the decanter or not – if still tasting youthful, it is not necessary if delicate put the stopper in.

If there is a likely hood that the wine is very mature and will be delicate decant immediately prior to serving, anything less than 25 years old should be fine decanted before the guests arrive.