To Decant or Not to Decant?

 My first encounter with a decanter was an occasion as a younger man with a palate inclined towards beer and cider. An acquaintance organized a room upgrade in a hotel where he worked. I got a suite instead of a room. A palatial squash court sized boudoir, there were complimentary chocolates, a fruit bowl and a glass receptacle with an amber brown liquid that I assumed was perfume. On splashing it onto my cheeks, it smelt far too oily to be perfume so of course it had to be bubble bath whereupon it was tipped into the running bath but failed to produce any bubbles of note despite much encouragement with my swirling hands.

A mature member of the housekeeping staff commented that it was nice to see such a young person enjoying a tipple of amontillado.

Decanters come in all shapes and sizes some suitable for purpose and some simply decorative.

The Questions, the arguments—Should I decant the wine?- How long before serving? And most importantly, why should I decant? So how do you know if the wine improves with decanting unless you leave some aside for comparison and would that wine once opened, be subjected to evaporation and oxidation just like the wine that has been decanted? 

Does a wine that is not decanted taste off?

Having recently researched the subject of decanting I can narrow the reasons why, down to three.

Firstly Older reds will contain sediment that is unpleasant to look at in your glass and rather disagreeable to taste. Careful decanting separates this sediment from the wine. Very old reds are usually delicate and thus should only be decanted just before serving.

 Young reds will benefit from an energetic splashing to enable oxygen to get through the wine and release more aromas.  

Finally, wine looks great in a nice decanter, It adds charm and class to an occasion.


So the science; what happens when I decant my wine?  Volatile compounds in the wine will evaporate upon exposure to air which in general is a positive as these compounds are often unwanted and the result of winemaking problems or failings.

Oxidation also takes place but it is at a much slower pace on a wine open for several hours and evidence suggests that this has no significant effect on tannins in such a short period. Some believe that a wine should be decanted immediately before serving in order to preserve all the wines reactions with air for us to enjoy. 

A “practical” reason for decanting a wine is to deploy the psychological phenomenon of auto suggestion. Place an empty bottle from a long consumed and enjoyed, impressive gem from your cellar beside a decanter full of a more modest and inexpensive offering. This is to give to those type of guests that you sometimes are obliged to entertain but deem unworthy of any vinous consideration beyond 12 Euro the impression that they are getting something special.

My conclusion is that it’s all in the aesthetics, There is nothing more appealing than the ruby, red, opaque colour of a recently decanted red sitting against the background of a white tablecloth, suggesting warmth, comfort and imminent lively conversation.


About winephantom

The recession has hit hard, no more tipping the last 1/2 glass out of the champagne bottle because it's a tad too warm. My lender would be kicking down my door for his interest if he knew I was drinking at all. Now I spend my time with the €5-€10 bottles discovering some real value and encountering some swamp donkeys to be avoided. This blog is a Wine Diploma holding palate, forced to trawl the murky depths populated by the bare knuckle fighters of the "entry level" wine world, trying to reveal the real crackers. Tasting notes exposed!! Regular explanations of the rubbish that are tasting notes! Wine Waffle indeed! Stories and trivia about wine.
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