A dear friend gave us a couple of Georgian decanters for a wedding present. They are not a pair – they were bought on separate occasions, and one has a hairline crack. We have used them for special bottles, particularly when we compare two wines, ever since 1973, and I allow nobody else to wash them up. One reason for decanting wine is for the sheer pleasure of seeing the liquid glint in a clear and beautiful decanter.
The mundane reason for decanting is, however, to separate an unfiltered wine from the deposit that may have formed in the bottle with ageing. As Paul Symington, maker of Graham’s, Dow’s and Warre’s Port says, this is an extremely simple and undaunting process, but it helps if you have remembered to stand your bottle up 24 hours in advance to allow the sediment to sink to the bottom. Pull the cork, and in a slow, steady movement pour the liquid into your decanter or carafe over a good light (an upturned torch or an Anglepoise lamp is ideal) and stop when the sediment reaches the neck. Don’t waste the dregs, which are excellent in gravy.
The other reason for decanting, to allow air to reach the wine, is more controversial. As our buyer Toby Morrhall explains, this works wonders with white Burgundy. Most Bordeaux proprietors always used to with older bottles of good Claret, which need ‘waking up’ after a long time in bottle; some decant an hour or two in advance.
Burgundians never decant their reds. You may lose some of the fruity perfume, but with a wine long-aged in cask or bottle, where secondary and tertiary aromas are more important, I do recommend decanting. Such wines are not to be hurried.
Sebastian Payne MW
Chief Wine Buyer