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What is a decanter? What does it do? Many people think that decanting is just for aesthetics. For whiskey and other spirits, that might be the case. But for wine, decanting has an actual purpose.
The process of fermentation results in the formation of sulfur dioxide or sulfites. It acts as a preservative so the wine doesn't turn into vinegar and rendered useless. Some claim that sulfites can cause headaches and allergic reactions because of its histamine content. However, this is very little evidence that it does any harm to the wine drinker. The wine most recommended for decanting are the red wines so there is nothing to cause alarm in red wines in terms of decanting as red wines have the lowest sulfite content of all wines.
The more likely causes of wine-induced headaches are the tannins and the high-alcohol content in the wine. This is why it is important to decant. The high amount of tannins from the red wine makes it bitter and has a flavor of dryness - that urge to drink water after a drink of red wine. Tannins also give character and body to the red wines. Without it, the red wine as we know it is no more. Moreover, red wines with high tannin age better than those with lower tannin content. In turn, these are more expensive.
Purpose of a decanter
To make these high tannin wines more pleasurable to the palate, decanting is a must. The process of decanting is to allow the wine to "breathe". Oxygen is introduced to it either by transferring the wine into a decanter or a glass and left on the counter for a few hours. Or you can skip that and get yourself a wine aerator. Connoisseurs, however, are not very convinced about the wine aerator and prefer to just decant it and breathe naturally.
Benefits of Decanting Wine
- Decanting makes the wine more delicious. Certain red wines like the Bordeaux red, Cabernet Sauvignon, wines made with Sangiovese grapes and Shiraz have a high tannin content. Decanting helps in aerating the wine to soften the tannins and reduce the sulfites in the wine. For that reason, white wines with high sulfite content like the white blends from the Rhone Valley, orange wines, Chenin Blanc, white Burgundy, and Sauternes also benefit from decanting.
- Decanting removes sediments. Tartrates, crystal-like sediments that have formed in the bottle are also removed with decanting. These form part of the sediments, along with the colloids from the sugars, proteins, and grape skin in the wine. While the sediments may be harmless, they make wine less pleasurable to drink.
- Decanting heightens the aromatics. Yet another reason for decanting is the release of aromatics in the wine. The aroma is one of the most important aspects of wine. The aroma heightens the flavor of the wine and adds to the perceived taste. When you smell the citrus from the wine, you can't really taste it. But as it bombards your sense of smell, it adds to the flavor of the wine. Young wines will benefit from decanting by the release of its aromatics.
- Decanting saves the wine from inevitable accidents. Uncorking a wine bottle sometimes entails accidents. Instead of throwing an expensive bottle of wine, wine masters suggest to strain it into a decanter to remove bits of cork.
What can you do with a crystal glass decanter?
Crystal decanters are known to have lead, especially the antique ones where the effects of lead were not known, and therefore, its use was not regulated.
Lead crystal decanters are admittedly beautiful, presenting the wine in a very enticing way with its high refractive index.
Modern crystal glass manufacturers, however, swapped lead oxide with borosilicate to come up with a crystal glass that is not harmful.
So, if you have an antique lead crystal decanter, what will you do? The alcohol will cause the lead to leach but it will take at least 24 hours to do so. If you must use your antique lead crystal decanter, it is best to keep it to a minimum, say, 6 hours at a time. This will limit the amount of leached lead if it indeed had leached during that period. Research shows that a glass of wine served in a lead crystal glass has lower lead content than the US FDA standard of 1-2mg per liter in beverages. We may be drinking more lead from our water than we know.
For safety purposes and peace of mind, however, have your antique crystal decanter tested for lead levels. Until then, it may be your best option to just keep your antique crystal decanter in the display rack.
The Shape of a Decanter
For wines, the best decanter to use is the circular ones as it allows the air inside to move freely and do its job. It should have a wide neck to allow more air at the least possible time. A good decanter should have done its job of aerating the wine, softening the tannins, releasing the aromas, and separating the sediments from the wine in an hour or less. Other wine experts, though, prefer to decant for at least 2 hours. A shorter neck and a large bowl also help the decanter to achieve its purpose in a shorter time.
It is good to note that the type of red wine might also influence the shape of the decanter that you need. For light-bodied red, rose, and white wines, a small decanter is enough. Even a small air space would do to suffice the need to aerate the wine. Light-bodied wines include Pinot Noir and Beaujolais. These wines are good after a few minutes of decanting.
For medium-bodied wines, a medium decanter is needed so there is more surface area for the air to move. The medium decanter can be used to serve Merlot, Sangiovese, Dolcetti, and Grenache.
For full-bodied wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Tannat, a large-bowled decanter will provide more surface area for the aeration. These wines take at least 1 hour.
Old red wines, depending on the style, may also take 2 hours or longer of decanting and are best served using the large-bowled decanters. For example, Madeira was recommended to be decanted for a day for every decade it is in the bottle. A 20-year old Madeira, based on this recommendation, needs 2 days of decanting. The good news is that it keeps for a long time even after the bottle is opened.
Which Decanter Shapes Are For Which Liquor?
To accurately represent the liquors in the decanter, it is important to choose the right one.
Gin is best served in a decanter with beveled corners. Since they are colorless, gin is best served in a clear decanter without embellishments or engravings. This design allows the refraction of light and adds beauty to gin.
Tequila is another liquor that will work well with a decanter with clean lines for the same reason as the gin. Decanting tequila takes away some of the sting from this intense liquor.
A beautifully-weighted decanter is a perfect choice for the brute strength that whiskey wants to portray. Clean, bold lines paired work best for this liquor.
Novelty and designed decanters can be used to serve whiskey and its other forms (bourbon, scotch, and rye) because the rich color of these liquors needs no masking and refracting to make it look more enticing.
Vodka works well with decanters with thick walls and base, especially if you chilled the vodka before decanting it. It is best to chill the decanter, too, before filling it. Choose a thick glass also when serving vodka as the thin glass may break when chilled through.
1. What Is the Difference Between a Decanter and a Carafe?
The most striking difference between a decanter and a carafe is the shape. Decanters are usually squat with a wide base. They may also come in all weird imaginable shapes from swans, ducks, dragons, even shoes! The shape makes up for the simple, clean finish of the decanter, unlike in carafes. Decanters may come with a stopper to stop the aeration process of the wine, especially if it is meant to stay in the decanter for extended periods.
Carafes, on the other hand, are shaped simply; its main purpose is to serve any liquid - juice, water, wine. They are usually textured and embellished to give a hint of elegance and sophistication in a table setting than simply serving juice or water in a regular pitcher. Carafes do not come with a stopper as there is no immediate need for it.
2. Which Wines Don’t Need Decanting?
One connoisseur strongly recommends decanting all wines, including the sparkling wines although there are also others who strongly oppose decanting sparkling wines including champagne. He argues that the yeast used in the fermentation of champagne should be removed prior to drinking. Too much yeast in the body can cause an imbalance, resulting in illnesses.
3. Why do you use a decanter?
Decanters are usually used to remove the sediments and make it more pleasurable to drink by releasing the aroma and softening the tannins in the wine. It can also be used to store wines for a short period of time.
4. What is the point of a decanter?
Decanting adds value to the wine. Aside from the more known benefits from decanting, the more apparent reason is aesthetics. While others may argue that swirling is enough to expose the wine to air, it is not applicable to old wines that need more than 1 hour of aeration. I doubt if anyone would love to swirl their wine for an hour to achieve the desired result.
Decanting is really a matter of taste and perception. Some sommeliers emphasize decanting while others seem to believe that decanting does little to change the taste of wine.
Over time, decanting has become a tradition, both for the difference it provides for the flavor and aroma, and mostly, due to the aesthetic value. It is definitely more enticing to drink wine poured from a beautiful decanter than from a bottle.
An alternative to decanting is to use a wine aerator. This aerates the wine faster than the regular decanting but some sommeliers claim that the forced introduction of air into the wine does not achieve the called-for effect.