Decanting – myths and reality

By , 9 January 2012



Is this Riedel Tyrol decater entirely necessary at R1 495?

From the December issue of GQ: As with everything in wine, decanting is more complicated than you think. Yes, pouring wine out of its bottle into a specially designed container adds a special flourish to a fine dining experience. And yes, it helps separate old wine from any sediment that has formed in the bottle.

However, as a means of promoting aeration in young wines, particularly reds, decanting is controversial. Your old man probably told you that decanting will cause: 1) the wine’s bouquet to “open up” (allow the wine’s full array of aromas to show) and 2) the wine to become less austere in terms of structure (tannins will become softer and rounder) but unfortunately there is very little science to support this.

Decant a wine and you will indeed be saturating it in oxygen but oxidation reactions (at play in wine maturation and which lead to fine wine becoming both “smoother” and more complex over time) take much longer than the usual hour or two between decanting and drinking. Decanting as a way of amplifying oxidation towards prematurely and agreeably ageing wine just doesn’t hold up.

So why is aeration via decanting considered so important by so many? The only substance other than grapes traditionally added to make wine is sulphur, used as both a preservative and disinfectant. Excess sulphur additions can obscure a wine’s fruit aromatics and leave it stinking of either sulfur dioxide (burnt match), hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg), or mercaptan (sweaty armpit). In young wines, these stenches often are volatile and not chemically bound in solution so some aeration can alleviate the problem.

Essentially, however, the action of oxygen dissolved in a sound wine is detrimental  in strict oenological terms – the longer before serving a wine is decanted, the more diffuse its and the less marked its sensory attributes.

Now you know the facts of the matter. Decanting is however hardly going to ruin a wine and if you want to indulge in a little bit of showmanship next time your mates come around for dinner, then decant away.


1 comment(s)

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    Riaan | 12 January 2012

    The custom of decanting have persisted for long enough it is difficult to think that it doesn’t have some usefulness to the taste in certain cases.. I’m thinking of the advice of my ‘local’ bottlestore owner while living in the UK and exploring the rack of Italian reds, they are often tannic and intense yet very closed at first (when opened too young 🙂 ), and I’ve carried the idea that that is a category of wine that can indeed use a good half a day or so of opening before drinking it. Not that I’ve ever been in a situation to test that scientifically!

    It still feels logical that the effects of oxidation could be a net positive on this type of red wine up to a point before the negative effects start catching up..

    But, wine is so subjective, the third force at play in people’s opinions on decanting could just be a variation on the placebo effect! Folk “believe” that so-and-so trick makes a difference 🙂 Just like wine out of a more expensive glass tastes better!

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