Decanting: how to breathe life into your wine

THE main thing about decanters is that they look nice – and make you look like you know about wine. At least, that’s what I thought until the folks from Riedel turned up at the City A.M. offices to demonstrate the worth of their wares. Twenty minutes after they entered bearing fine glassware, I had seen the light. Decanters make the wine you’re going to drink taste much, much better.

There are two reasons to decant wine, says Matt Knight, Riedel’s business manager. The first is to remove the sediment in old wines. The second is to oxidate younger wines. Once oxidated, wines open up. It’s as simple as that.

“Unlike wine glasses, all decanters do the same thing,” says Knight. Before him is a selection of sumptuous glassware; much of it intended to look like a woman’s curves from behind. (More dirty-minded individuals have noted a different anatomical similarity). As long as they are open at the top, oxygen will get in. However, the longer the neck, the more the wine gets oxidised on the way in as well.

What you may not know is that all wines should be decanted – including white, champagne, and cheap and cheerful wines too. “In fact, those bottles worth £3.99 need it most to pick them up,” says Knight. Older wines need much less time – around 10 minutes – as they’ll have oxidated in the bottle and you risk killing them by over-decanting them. Younger wines, though (say, one to eight years old) can benefit from an all-day soak. “If you’ve got a younger, full-bodied wine, decant the bottle when you leave home in the morning and when you come back it’ll be ready,” he says. Most wines will benefit hugely from a 20-minute chance to breathe.

In other words, love your decanter, whether it is a humble machine-blown jug or a piece of hand-blown finery. There is, however, one exception to the rule that shape doesn’t matter. The decanter we tried was Riedel’s Eve (pictured right): it has a swan-like neck and two chambers that look like a tail wrapping around itself. In order to push the wine into the neck to pour out, you have to swish it in a circle to move it into the right chamber. When you add in the mile-long neck the wine has to get up and down, you’ve got a triple decanting action.

While Knight had been talking to us, the wine – a lovely 2006 Pomerol (red Bordeaux) had been sitting in the Eve, occasionally being swirled by one of us. We poured the decanted wine into a glass, and the wine straight from the bottle into another one. Immediately an astonishing difference was noticeable: the one poured from the decanter had a gorgeous multi-layered heady aroma. It had literally been opened up. The bottled wine smelled positively tinny and squashed next to it.

But the beauty of the decanted Bordeaux was even more obvious on the tongue. It was endlessly deep, its blackberries and figs ringing in the mouth, the tannins perfectly mellowed by the time it hit the back of your throat. Not so for the other glass. It was fine, but seemed dull and a bit acidic next to the decanted wine.

Blind tastings are notorious. People can wax lyrical about the pine-cone and hazelnut nuance of this wine and the thistle-cheese-leather undertone of that one. Blindfold them and it turns out it isn’t all quite so clear without the label handy. But when we scrambled these two glasses around – and we did so with glee – it was always instantly obvious which glass contained the wine that had been allowed to breathe, even for just 20 minutes.

Decanters aren’t just posh additions to your tableware, or for wine aficionados. They’re for anyone who prefers to drink wine at its best.

As Knight puts it: “Decanters are about getting your money’s worth from the wine.” It doesn’t hurt that they’ve become design pieces, so you’re buying a piece of chic table art at the same time. Here we’ve chosen two of our favourite Riedel decanters alongside three other functional and attractive receptacles.