Anyone who has consumed a lot of wine over time has tasted some that just did not seem quite right at first. Then about half way through the glass, the taste seemed to change. Usually a bit more mellow, quite often some flavors became more evident. What started out to be a bomb became a nice experience.
Wine is always undergoing a chemical reaction. From the time of fermentation, through the aging process, and bottling, a lot of activity happens. As the wine stays in the bottle, even then changes still occur, albeit much slower than before, as the wine is almost comatose due to lack of oxygen. When the bottle is opened, and air comes into the wine, this process is stepped up drastically. What may appear tannic to ones mouth (in wine lingo, tannins), can become, after exposure to air, a very palatable drink. The process of introducing air to wine after the bottle is opened is known as decanting.
Rather than just opening the bottle and letting it breathe, a proper decanting involves pouring the wine into a larger container that allows the air to be exposed to more of the wine surface. In addition to exposing it to air, if a bottle is older or has not been through filtration, decanting can help remove sediment.
Looking on the internet can scare anyone looking to buy a vessel for decanting (known by some wine geeks as a carafe). Prices go from $20-30.00 up to several hundred dollars. Crazy. When working retail, I was speaking about this subject to a CWS (Certified Wine Specialist – a real designation) who laughed and said that people should just go to Walmart and get a glass jar or lemonade pitcher, the effect would be the same. It just does not look as sophisticated.
More important than the container is the amount of time it stays in the container prior to serving. My favorite method for determining the time frame is to taste it. Depending on the wine, sometimes I taste it more often. A good rule of thumb is to letting it remain approxiamately thirty minutes. After initially pouring the wine into the carafe and prior to serving, I will swirl the wine around to add just a touch more air. If the wine stays too long in the carafe, it can lose its flavor and actually go bad. It all depends on the wine. Usually, older wines do not require as much decanting, if any at all, save to remove some sediment that may be present.
Another method of decanting which scares me just a bit, is putting the wine in a blender and blending it for thirty to sixty seconds. After the wine settles, it can be served in a traditional carafe.
In an interview with Wine Searcher, Nathan Myhroid, the guru of the “Hyper Decanting” trend stated, “Wine lovers have known for centuries that decanting wine before serving it often improves its flavor. Whatever the dominant process, the traditional decanter is a rather pathetic tool to accomplish it. A few years ago, I found I could get much better results by using an ordinary blender.”
While this may be a much faster method of decanting wine, it smacks of our “gotta have it now” culture. Face it, wine is not a fast food item unless lesser quality wines are being consumed. At that point, it does not need to be decanted anyway, as no form of decanting can revive a dead wine. Also, when a wine has a bad cork that has allowed air to get in and queer the wine, decanting will do no good.
Not an exact science, decanting, like wine, comes down to a personal choice. I have a friend who is very knowledgeable about wine and insists on decanting every bottle he opens, while others may not even know what a decanter is, but have drunk wines for years. Whatever you do, enjoy. And please, drink responsibly.