There are many reasons why you should consider decanting a bottle of wine. Some reasons are purely aesthetic, but others are very practical.
On the aesthetic side, wine decanters are beautiful works of art, and add class and elegance to any room, especially when they actually contain wine. Throughout history, decanters have had an important role in the serving of wine, and are featured prominently in important historical writings, such as the Bible. The use of glass dates all the way back to the Syria of 5000 BC, but the Romans popularized the use of it for wine decanters. Before, it was common to store wine in clay pots, which allowed it to turn into vinegar quickly. The glass decanters allowed them to keep wine longer, and in better condition, as well as removing much of the sediment. Modern decanters are made of crystal, and are very eye-catching. They can add a touch of class to any social occasion where wine is served.
There are those who disdain the use of decanters, and many who have them, but do not use them. They have some valid points. The major complaint of using decanters is that they are difficult to clean properly. By design, they have a longish, narrow throat, and neck. This is so that the amount of air that goes into the body of the decanter is limited, to a certain extent. It also concentrates the bouquet. However, this design, while very good for its purpose, can make cleaning it problematic. A wine decanter has to be sparkling clean, inside and out, to do its job properly.
This problem is relatively easy to solve. You just need to use the right tools, and techniques. Many companies make specialty wine decanter cleaning brushes, that can be bent into any shape needed to reach anywhere, inside any shaped bottle. If you don’t have a set of these, I strongly recommend that you get one. They are inexpensive, and invaluable. The next thing I recommend is that you get a set of Cham-Wow towels. They are available at most Wal-Marts, and are magic. They absorb over 100 times their weight in water. When you wring them out by hand, they are completely dry, and ready to go again, instantly. They are also very soft, like real chamois, will not scratch or mar any surfaces, and are excellent for buffing and polishing. Best of all, they are machine-washable, and always come out spotlessly clean. They do not stain, no matter what. I am very meticulous about cleaning anything I may cook in, eat or drink from, or on, so here is how I clean and sterilize my decanters:
- NEVER USE SOAP OR DETERGEANTS. They will affect the wine, even after you rinse them out.
- Never put crystal in a dishwasher, unless you want permanent water-spots on it. It will also permanently dull the finish.
- Fill your decanter ¾ full of hot water. Use the decanter brushes to scrub the inside well, and rinse it 2 or 3 times with more hot water. This loosens-up, and softens any residue that may have dried inside.
- Drop a handful of raw rice in the decanter.
- Pour enough white vinegar into the decanter to cover the rice about an inch or so deep..
- With the stopper in, shake the decanter well, from all angles, making sure the rice gets to scour all areas of the inside well. Allow it to set for 24 hours, shaking it again every few hours.
- Pour out the vinegar and rice, and rinse the decanter with warm water, until there is no more vinegar smell.
- Soak the decanter in a sink full of a solution of cold water, and a splash of chlorine bleach. Allow it to soak for 20 minutes, then rinse well with cold water until there is no more chlorine smell.
- Allow the decanter to air dry, upside-down for 10 minutes. Then wrap a small Cham-Wow (or paper towel) around the decanter brush and wipe out any remaining water drops. This is so there will be no water spots. It also buffs the inside to a beautiful sheen.
- With a dry Cham-Wow, buff the outside of the decanter until it develops a sparkling sheen. From this point on, only handle it with a towel, or limit contact with your hands as much as possible.
- When you put the decanter up, leave the stopper out for a few hours to let it air out a bit more. Avoid handling it any more than necessary. The oil from your hands will dull the sheen.
When you clean your decanter like this, there will never be any off tastes, or carry-overs to the next wine you put in it, and it will be sparkling clean and shiny, inside and out.
Keeping your decanter clean is only part of the process. There is more to decanting a bottle of wine than just dumping it into a new container. It must be done with respect, and gently, keeping in mind why you are doing this. Wines, especially older reds, will benefit greatly from the aeration generated during the decanting process. It allows them to mature gracefully, with dignity, and show their true magnificence. Decanting also removes sediment from older wines, which can adversely affect the taste. For younger wines, the aeration developed during decanting helps tame some of the tannins present in a less-than-fully aged wine. It allows the character to mature much faster, so that it can aspire to its fullest potential, in the least amount of time. Think of it as a nurturing process.
I hope that your wine has been stored on its side in a cool, dark place. Before you decant, set the bottle upright for 6 hours to allow any sediment to settle to the bottom. From now on, handle the bottle gently, with as little shaking as possible.
There are a few steps to decanting wine:
- Have your decanter, a portable light source (that you don’t have to hold), corkscrew, and anything else you need handy.
- Open the bottle of wine completely, including the neck wrapper. You need to be able to see the neck. Try not to shake or jostle the bottle.
- Position the light source so that you can see through the neck of the bottle well. You will need to monitor the flow of wine closely.
- Holding the decanter with one hand, and the wine bottle in the other, slowly and evenly pour the wine into the decanter. Do this carefully and deliberately. At the same time, closely watch the wine flowing down the neck and look for any sediment which may be moving towards the neck.
- If you see any sediment moving into the neck, gently stop pouring. As a rule, this will be during the last ½ cup or so of the wine. You can let it set for a bit and see if it settles, then try to pour some more wine into the decanter, but don’t press it. If the sediment tries to come out again, leave the rest of the wine in the bottle.
- Put the stopper in the decanter, and store it. Do not throw the leftover wine (if any) away. Use it for cooking. If it turns to vinegar, do not throw it away. Wine vinegar is a very expensive and wonderful cooking ingredient. Save it and use it.
Now, you have a crystal-clear wine, in a beautiful decanter, that will be able to debut at the very peak of its performance. Impress your friends with it. You earned the privilege. That is all there is to properly decanting a bottle of wine.