You know how to create the ultimate romantic evening: you light the fire, put on Barry White and decant the wine.
Something about pouring wine out of decanter makes the experience so much more sensual – especially with Barry’s soulful voice in the background – and it certainly makes you look like you know what you’re doing.
But beyond trying to impress your date, there really is a purpose to decanting wine.
1. To remove the sludge – or sediment – from the bottom of the older bottles.
There are major scientific reasons why sediment is created in bottles of red wine. But because we know you’re not concerned with “classroom” chemistry right now, here’s your cheat sheet: As wine ages, the color of the falls to the bottom of the bottle.
“And though it may look like black sludge, it’s tasteless and harmless,” says Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, Master of Wine.
Odds are good your date doesn’t want to drink it though.
2. To let in air.
Much like you and I, oxygen helps the wine breath. The pros call this aeration. There’s no room in the bottle for the wine to move around. It’s like wearing your skinny jeans on that hot date. You know you can’t breathe in them.
As the wine is poured out of the bottle into a decanter, it begins to relax as the oxygen surrounds it. The pros say the wine softens because it’s as if the wine is relaxing – not unlike your date after this gem from our friend Barry White.
“Oxygen also awakens those wonderful scents and aromas,” says Simonetti-Bryan.
What should be decanted?
Mostly anything can be decanted – certainly your California cabernets, and pretty much anything from Italy and France.
Super old wines may actually be harmed by decanting, though. Remember, oxygen ages the wine. And if its already old, rushing the aging process will kill it – literally.
Also, really cheap wines may actually fall apart when you decant and let air get to them. There is a reason that bottle is under $10. By all means drink it and enjoy it but there’s no need to dress it up and pretend its something its not.
What kind of decanter?
Ideally, find a decanter with a big bottom. Then there’s more surface area for the oxygen to do its work.
If you have sediment, pick one with a long clear neck, so you can see the sediment as you pour and stop accordingly.
And you don’t need to spend a ton of money on a decanter.
Even those big beer pitchers could work. That wide open surface allows so much oxygen to hit the wine. If you don’t feel comfortable serving the wine from it, then just pour it back into the original wine bottle. “That’s actually double decanted now because the act of repouring exposes it more oxygen,” says Simonetti-Bryan.
And Finally – How long?
Most pros will suggest you decant for about an hour. But it really will depend on you. “Taste it throughout the decanting process to see at which point you like it,” suggests Simonetti-Bryan.
So much like love – wine has no rules and requires patience.
Good thing there are enough Barry White songs to last all the night.