Well, I did it again. I screwed up and left some really good wine in my cellar way too long past its natural age. But, unlike cheap stuff that I usually just throw into my spaghetti sauce, I just wasn’t ready to dump this stuff out. A really good 1998 Robert Mondavi, Napa Cabernet Sauvignon that had won some prestigious merits in its time, I thought couldn’t just go into a marinara sauce without a fight.
So I did a wine snobish thing that I rarely ever do. I decanted it, and saved its life long enough to pass over my tongue. The wine tasted fantastic. Mondavi would have been proud!
So, you ask, what is decanting, and how is it done? This is a very good question that I’d like to cover. Many people have heard of decanting, however very few people do it, or know how to do it properly.
The first thing to understand is that decanting is for older red wines only. Decanting a white wine is really not going to do it any good. Newer red wines can use decanting occasionally, however youthful wines are usually responsive to air very quickly and they usually open up their flavors right in the glass.
The purpose of decanting is to remove sediments and to add air to the wine so it can “breathe”. The wine that is a good candidate for decanting is one that has been stored properly for several years, lying on its side, out of direct light, and in a temperature controlled environment.
An important rule about decanting is that you can’t save wine that has turned to vinegar. Vinegar = wine + air. You can’t breathe something more if has already breathed too much!
So, how to decant a wine. The best way to decant your wine is to keep the bottle in the same position it has already been in. There are actually baskets that you can purchase to keep the wine in a semi-horizontal position. You don’t want the bottle shaken, as the wine sediment is what you are trying to get filtered out.
Uncork the bottle carefully, slowly, and smoothly. You may experience a large amount of mist. This is a good thing, meaning that your wine has been aging slowly and properly. After uncorking, pour the wine into a decanter or pitcher made of glass or crystal. Do this slowly, making sure not to pour any of the sediment into the decanter.
Simply pouring the wine into the decanter, in most cases, can create enough fresh air to open up the flavors in the wine. If not, I suggest leaving it for one to two hours before enjoying it. There are decanters that lay somewhat horizontally. These help to create more surface to air ratio for the wine. I like using just an old-fashioned decanter because it is so easy to serve into glasses.
Once your wine is decanted, I suggest you drink it within six to eight hours. As I mentioned earlier, wine left to the air becomes vinegar. You don’t want that to happen, so please enjoy all of your wine in one place.
So, next time you find an old bottle and don’t want to throw it out, I suggest giving decanting a try. Enjoy!