W&W Wine Guide - When to Decant your Wine

W&W Wine Guide - When to Decant your Wine

To the uninitiated, the decision whether to decant your wine sits alongside such questions as "Should we have quinoa salad for dinner tonight, darling?" or Tuesday night disasters like, "Oh no, they've delivered Aqua Panna instead of Badoit, I simply cannot cope!" but there is no need for such melodrama when it comes to wine.

Let's take a step back and have a look at the reasons for decanting wine. It's a fairly giant step back to the 17th Century when Claret and Port were the two most readily available forms of wine to those who could afford it. Due to the nature of winemaking practices then, wineries were not exactly known for their standards of hygiene and sometimes flora and fauna would end up in the fermentation vats. There were no fine filtration methods in those days, so wines would be racked off their lees (google it, they'll only give me this much space!) and then bottled. If there was any visual evidence of alien material in the wine before bottling, passing said wine through a muslin cloth was the most common form of filtration. However, these Clarets or Ports were not cheap even by modern standards. They would require years of cellaring before being ready to consume and when opened would need to be decanted to prevent the sediment from the bottom of the bottle being drunk. Decanters were not cheap and usually made from lead crystal so only the middle or upper classes could afford them, which has given the now quite humble decanter a certain cachet and a firm association with wine buffs and, dare we say it, wine bores!

However, this highfaluting association is no longer justified today. Very good wine is no longer the preserve of the eighteenth century hoorah Henry, so nor should the decanter be! Over the last thirty years or so, it has become much more common to decant younger wines - not so much as to remove sediment (unless bottled unfiltered, many wines will not throw a sediment), but more to aerate the wine and in the process "soften" the effect of the tannins in the wine. For this, an actual decanter is not really needed; a big jug is often sufficient. At home I will often "double-decant" a wine; that is to pour into a large jug and then back into the bottle (usually through a small filter funnel, should there be any sediment). Then, after an hour or so, the wine will be ready for drinking.

Of course, all of the above relates to red wines, but a number of fuller bodied, oaky white wines will benefit from decanting to aerate the wine and encourage it to open up before drinking.

So what types of wine would I recommend to decant? Check out the list below for some pointers.

Champagne (yes, really)
Oaky Chardonnay (eg. Australia, California, Burgundy)

Red Bordeaux (Claret)
Good Quality Chianti
Good Quality Rioja
New World Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Merlot, Carmenere, Malbec

We stock plenty of the above in our shops and here online. Remember, we're here to help you explore our range of wine, which is by far the most varied and interesting in town. You won't find what we sell in any supermarket as we tend to concentrate on finding wines from smaller producers, often produced by a very small group of winemakers, or a husband and wife winemaking team. You won't find a single wine on our shelves that we haven't tried before deciding to stock it, so we really do know our range inside out, decanted or not!

Graham Simpson
Wine & Spirits Buyer, Whitmore & White