As the age-old question goes: “To decant or not to decant?”. Like most matters in wine, there is no clear cut answer. As a result, wine drinkers and sommeliers alike have different preferences and opinions on the matter.
Below, we’ve rounded up some of the most common questions, reasons and situations where wine might be decanted to get you started. However, no matter your taste, wine is meant to be enjoyed and no rules are set in stone. So open up your favourite bottle of red (or white), give it a sniff and choose your own adventure!
Why is decanting important?
Decanting wine refers to the practice of pouring wine from its bottle into a different container and is reserved for reductive wines. Red wine, and some white wines, can be reductive, which is a fancy term that means they lack oxygen. Decanting helps the aromas of a wine come through more, and will usually bring out more enjoyable scents. If you find that the smell of a wine transforms after some time to let it breath in a decanter, there’s a good chance the wine is reductive. We’ve noticed the biggest transformations or softening with petrol (common in rieslings) or farm-like scents (common in organic, natural or biodynamic wines).
Decanting red wine also softens tannins, which come from the skins of the grapes and are responsible for the mouth drying sensation you get in red wine. This holds especially true in young red wines, where tannis can be harsh and the wine can be higher in alcohol, almost burning your nose when you give it a sniff. Letting the wine sit in a decanter allows it to breathe, helps soften those tannins by letting some of the alcohol blow off and ultimately, makes the wine a little more approachable.
As noted, the age of wine also plays an important factor. A common misconception is that older wines are in need of a longer decant, which isn’t exactly true since the wine changes with age. Often, younger reds are in need of a longer decant to smoothen out the effect of its tannins.
Is decanting just reserved for red?
Contrary to popular belief, white wine can also be reductive and may be in need of a decant. Sometimes, grape varieties like chardonnay can be reductive and at times, riesling, encompasses sulphur aromas that blow off with a little time spent in a decanter.
Recommended Grape Varieties to Decant:
Brunello di Montalcino
Looking for a little inspiration? Our top bottles of the moment that do best decanted include Argiano’s Brunello di Montalcino from Noble Estates, Tin Barn Pickberry Vyd. Cabernet Sauvignon from The Vine Agency and Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz from LCBO. All range in price point and style…and are equally delicious!
How long should wine be left in a decanter?
Generally, nothing should be left in the decanter for any longer than an hour because leaving wine open to the air for too long may allow the fruit and good aromas to blow off as well. If you’re opening a special bottle of wine that’s worthy of decanting, you likely aren’t going to chug it. The best practice is to allow the wine to change in your glass while you sip it, to avoid missing out on the evolution of the wine by decanting it for too long.
The moral of the story is that wine changes as you enjoy it. So no matter your decanting preference, be sure to enjoy it with a good meal and good company.
-Jordan Mazzanti is the Lead Sommelier at Somm.
This feature article is part of a collaborative series between VineRoutes and Somm – a Toronto-based technology company focused on making wine more approachable and accessible to everyone. Somm is building a personally tailored recommendation engine for the human palate, and in the process, is putting a sommelier in everyone’s pocket. Download Somm today to join the journey and become part of the Cru. Visit www.somm.io.