The art of decanting wine has fascinated me for years. Maybe it was because I watched my father perform the ritual with such ease and precision or because of the number of myths surrounding decanting (Some say the wine masters in posh expensive restaurants would actually decant the wine table side).
What is Decanting
Although it might sound quite fancy, decanting is a simple process of transferring the contents of a wine bottle into another receptacle (the decanter) before serving. The reason: to separate the wine from the sediments that have formed through aging of the wing. The other reason for decanting white wine is to stimulate these wines by exposing them to air and giving them a chance to breathe.
So do all wines need to be decanted? Not really. Most wines on the shelves today need not be decanted as the wine making process ensures it is completely pure before it is bottled. This process is known as fining and mechanical filtration. The wines which need to be decanted are the ones which have typically aged in bottles, especially red wines rather than white.
However, the young and the white wines also benefit from decanting, as aerating the wine helps release the complex aromas and softens the harsh tannins. Among all the different types of white wine, oaked wines, notably Chardonnay, are the most susceptible to the decanting process unlike the high acidity, unoaked dry white wine varieties, such as Riesling, which are relatively unchanged by limited exposure to oxygen.
How to Decant White Wine
To decant white wine, you would need certain wine accessories like a graduated liter jug, an easy-to-operate corkscrew, a clean cloth, a knife, and a funnel. Here is the step-by-step process that will be of help.
Before the decanting procedure, keep the bottle upright for up to two days so as to let the sediment settle. Remove the cork, and hold the bottle over a light source so that you can watch for the sediments as you pour the wine slowly into the decanter.
Mark the 720ml level on the jug. Using a corkscrew, (take care not to push through the bottom of the cork) remove the cork slowly without disturbing the sediments. Using a cloth clean inside the neck of the bottle, remove any cork particles or sediment.
Pour the wine into the jug with a steady hand so as to ensure a continuous stream. Do this non-stop till it reaches the 720ml mark. Remember, that you need to do this with minimum 'glugging' of the liquid. The remaining wine containing the sediment can be discarded or used to make gravy.
Rinse off the leftover sediment out of the empty bottle with warm water. Then pour the decanted wine back into the bottle, using a funnel if necessary. The bottle can be loosely re-corked or you can serve it in the decanter itself.
Choosing the Decanter
Choosing the right decanter is an important part of the decanting process. While a clear, crystal decanter allows you to view the wine clearly, an overly decorated or colored decanter can obscure the wine. The glass design and the size of the opening also has an effect on the decanting process as a larger opening allows more aroma to build-up over the wine.
Make sure that your decanter is free from musty wood aromas by rinsing it with mineral water. This will remove any residual chlorine odor. DO NOT clean your decanter with detergent, as its shape makes it very difficult to get the soapy residue out. Instead, use a mixture of crushed ice and coarse salt to remove the aroma of any residual wine.
There has been much debate about whether decanting white wine is necessary or not. However, as Piero Selvaggio, owner of Valentino Restaurant Group, says about decanting, "People talk about a wine being closed. A closed flower doesn't give you the pleasure a beautiful rose will give you when it's in full bloom. You want the petals of the wine, its aromas, to open up and talk to you."