Decanting Wines and Types of Wine Decanters
The process by which certain wines are poured out of the bottle into a container (decanter) from which they are to be served. It is often assumed that a wine that does not throw a deposit does not therefore have to be decanted. This is not so. The wine should, of course, be poured off any deposit, because its brightness in the glass is one of its charms and any deposit floating in it will mask the beautiful colour. Also, deposit – ‘bits’ – will affect the taste, because it will affect the way the wine feels in the mouth. A wine should also be decanted if it is desired to ‘air’ it by exposing it to the atmosphere, both to accustom it to the temperature of that atmosphere and subsequently to aerate the wine itself by releasing it to the air. This is so that it can either spread itself and develop its beautiful smell and fullness of flavour to the utmost, orit can be smoothed out and ‘brought on’ if it is a wine that must be opened before the time when it will be at its peak for enjoyable drinking, such as may occur with great clarets of a long-lasting vintage.
Red wines are those most usually associated with decanting; but certain fine old white wines, especially those that have thrown a slight deposit – such as the great Sauternes – can also be decanted to great advantage. It should be remembered that, in this instance, the decanter should be chilled as well as the bottle of wine. Vintage port should always be decanted, because of its heavy deposit and crust. Any fine claret also deserves decanting: ‘an old wine deserves it, a young wine needs it’, has been pertinently said. Red Burgundy is seldom decanted in France, but it too can benefit by the process.
However the real criterion of whether to decant or not is personal – if you like your wine decanted, have it decanted. The way to find out is to take two bottles of the same wine, decant one before drinking time, according to whatever is advised or at least an hour in advance, and compare the wine from the decanted bottle with that from the bottle not decanted. Some authorities in the wine trade do not decant even their finest red wines (except possibly vintage port), but merely stand up the bottles and draw the corks ahead of time. But it is fair comment to say that they are in the minority. However the decanter is not often used in France or in the New World and when it is, it is as the customer ought to get what he pays for, so he should get his wine decanted if he wishes, whether or not the locals bother to decant. They are not necessarily ‘right’, any more than those of us who prefer our wines decanted are ‘wrong’.
TYPES OF DECANTER:
These vary greatly. Squat, rectangular or oddly-shaped ones are associated with spirits; rather bulbous, short-necked and heavily-cut ones with vintage port and, possibly, sherry or Madeira; and the pot-bellied, long-necked type with table wines. Lipped decanters or jugs are often called ‘claret jugs’ but can be used for any table wine; if they have silver or plated lips or lids, take care the polish does not impart any flavour. Triangular decanters are known as ‘ship’ decanters, so called because their shape made them particularly stable when used on board a sailing vessel. Although decanters may be coloured, the beauty of a wine’s colour can be appreciated in the decanter as well as in the glass and therefore transparent glass or crystal is ideal.
THE METHOD OF DECANTING:
This is straightforward – for the really hesitant layman, a wine can, on request, be decanted into a clean bottle by the merchant. The bottle should, in advance, have been stood upright so that any deposit may sink down to the base. If a bottle must be drawn straight from its recumbent position in the bin, then a cradle should be used to hold it in the same position, while the cork is drawn and the wine poured. The capsule should either be wholly removed or a cut made round under the flange of the bottle neck, so that the piece of capsule over the cork can be lifted. It is important that the capsule is removed sufficiently to enable the wine to be poured without running over any of the capsule. Should this remain high up around the neck, the capsule may give the wine an unpleasant metallic taste. Then the wine is poured into the decanter, carafe or clean bottle with a steady, unhurried flow; ideally the wine should slide down the side of the decanter, instead of splashing into it.
There should be a light, either underneath the neck of the bottle or behind the wine as it is poured; this will show when any deposit comes up from the base of the bottle into the out-going wine, so that pouring may cease. A candle, electric light bulb or torch will serve for this purpose. At no time should the bottle be tilted down towards the decanter and then raised again, as this will churn up any deposit in the wine and all poured after that will be cloudy. This is why the use of the wine cradle for serving wine around a table is pointless, because the wine is merely stirred up by the tilting up and down of the bottle in the cradle. When the wine has been decanted, the bottle with the dregs is stood upright, either on the sideboard or a table apart, depending on whether diners will wish to inspect it (sometimes it is put on the table for people to see). The decanter is either stoppered or the stopper is left out, according to whether it is wished to ‘air’ the wine a little more.
The bottle should be handled throughout with the aid of a perfectly clean cloth or napkin which is used, first, to wipe the neck and top of the bottle before the capsule is cut, then to wipe the top of the cork after the capsule is removed, finally to wipe the neck after the cork has been drawn. This sort of cloth should never be washed in detergent or used for anything except handling glasses and decanters. 1. Bottle has been standing up, so that deposit has settled in base of the punt. Note quantity and type of deposit by lifting bottle to the light. Open in usual way, taking great care that the deposit is not shaken in the process.
Put some form of light – candle, battery torch, or light bulb – on the table below the shoulder of the bottle. Pour wine slowly into the decanter, directing flow down the side without splashing. At start of the operation, the decanter will be tilted more towards the bottle. As the bottle is progressively gradually tilted, the decanter will be held more upright.
Watch as the deposit moves from, the base of the bottle and slides up until it is momentarily retained by the bottle’s shoulder. Do not tilt the bottle backwards, keep it inclined, set decanter down.
Pour the remainder of the wine into a glass, stopping pouring as soon as any deposit comes into the neck of the bottle or is about to pass into the glass. Set bottle down. The bright wine in the glass may be used as a tasting sample or added to the wine in the decanter.
Decanters should be cleaned by rinsing thoroughly in fresh hot water. If they are seriously stained, then anything that will clean false teeth (or even bleach) may be used to remove any marks inside, but then the vessels must be very thoroughly rinsed. Ideally they should then be dried, which may be achieved, even with the long-necked type, by poking a cloth down into them with the aid of a skewer or long-handled wooden spoon. (For display purposes decanters are often cleaned inside with twisted spills of newspapers but this imparts a smell). Otherwise they can be drained upside down. Any trace of liquid inside should be dried out before they are put away, as stale water can create a stale smell inside, and it is undesirable to have to rinse (and attempt to dry) a decanter immediately before it is to be used. Stoppers can either be left out or only lightly inserted, to avoid any stale air being trapped inside.
Often merely used as a receptacle for the wine, into which deposit and all is poured without care. This is mere chi-chi. But the British, who have some reputation for knowing about fine classic wines, do tend to prefer their wines decanted. Therefore it is worthwhile seeing whether an individual likes wines served in this way before dismissing it as a mere piece of garniture.
In fact, there is often a simple explanation for the use – or absence – of the decanter in various wine regions and countries. Today’s winelover may not have realised that, when a decanter was not easy to obtain, even the wealthiest person in a wine region might not have had one to use! Recently I was asked why decanters are seldom used in Australia and I replied that I did not suppose the 19th century settlers regarded glassware as essential equipment when planning what baggage they could stow in the holds of the sailing ships. They could not count on cheap local labour in Australia and. By this time, needed to bring with them such mechanised agricultural and. Even, industrial equipment as was available when they left Europe. In South Africa, on the other hand, the first settlers and winemakers arrived in the 17th century. They could call on slave workers and they were already familiar with the table glass and similar luxuries that had become routine domestic utensils in wealthy Holland because of the rise of the great glass-works, especially in England and Ireland, at this time. The Dutch also used glass – flasks as well as drinking vessels – for spirits as well as wine. New arrivals in the ‘colonies’ that are now the U.S. Also either brought their upper class European traditions with them or. Later, often came from parts of Europe where glass manufacturing was already an important business – such as Bohemia (Czechoslovakia), Poland. Scandinavia and parts of France. They were accustomed to some extent to the existence of the decanter and the use of different glasses for different drinks.
The major influence, however, is that of the British glass-works which perfected a way of making glass in the 17th century that caused verre anglais to be in great demand for wine bottles. English and Irish glass was a great status symbol on the tables of the nobility and the ‘new rich* at a time of great expansion of trade. The decanter became associated with certain drinks virtually created for the British market – port. Madeira and sherry – all of them arriving in quantity at British ports. Madeira was also very popular in North America. Then, when the evolution of the bottle enabled certain table and fortified wines to be laid down, the heavy deposit thrown by these wines made the use of the decanter pertinent so that the fine crystal wine glasses were not clouded with ‘bits’.
Allan Sichel stated that it was only in the late 1940s that he managed to convince what was then the top hotel and restaurant in Bordeaux that he. And people like him, wanted their great wines decanted. In Burgundy in the mid-1950s I remember an otherwise fine restaurant where, when the sommelier was asked to decant a very old wine, he simply tipped it. Deposit and all, into a carafe! Only with the influx of tourists and potential wine buyers into many wine regions did many local hoteliers become aware of the correct use of the decanter – and many remain ignorant of it to this day.