Before wines were routinely fined and filtered to a crystal clear state, it was quite common for wines poured from a bottle to be cloudy or contain a considerable degree of solid deposits. In order to avoid bringing an unsightly looking wine to the table, it was quite the norm to decant the wine into a clear receptacle. The need for such a receptacle or vessel led to the development of the varied decanters available today.
Most wines today, have no real need for decanting to the same degree as was required in the past. The modern winemaking process ensures that wine is thoroughly clarified before it is bottled, by a process of fining (passing egg whites, Bentonite clay or other substances through to fine and collect the suspended solid matter) and by mechanical filtration.
Although these wines are often best served from the bottle (after all, you have paid for a quality finished wine), many wines do benefit from some decanting - (a controlled breath of fresh air).
Wines which have aged in the bottle, typically red wines, will generally throw a sediment by ten years of age. Not only is this sediment displeasing to the eye, it can also be quite unpleasant on the palate. These are the wines that need and deserve gentle decanting, (i.e. giving wine respect).
Young wines can also benefit from decanting, although the aim is not to take the wine off any sediment (there is rarely sediment in young wines), but rather to aerate, open-up and also soften the wine. The action of decanting, the wines surface area in contact with the air inside the decanter, helps to integrate the wine, softening its youthful tannic bite, oak characters, astringency and acidity, encouraging the development of more complex and harmonious aromas that would normally develop with more years in the bottle. This also includes quality, well made, young white wines *(e.g. barrel fermented or oaked Chardonnay) - these can be cool decanted - *(shown below).
With this in mind, even inexpensive red wines can benefit from decanting, if a first taste reveals a tannic, grippy, oak, astringent structure, but good quality, ripe fruit in the background.
Having confidence in the wine and giving it time to breathe will give or regain a harmony of all these unique and exciting components, layers and flavours in the wine and bring them into balance for your senses and taste buds to enjoy. Different wines require and benefit from different lengths of time in a decanter. So speak with the retailer, or winemaker for suggestions depending upon the style and age of the wine - but most of all, do not aerate a wine for too long - and enjoy the journey.
To view a small selection of the hand-crafted, mouth-blown range of 'lead-free' crystal decanters made by Eisch in Frauenau - Germany.
*Click on the Gallery Images below for full-size.