What's the Point of Decanting Wine and How Do I Do It?

School's in session, on your terms: We're asking the Valley's top wine gurus to answer all your wine-related queries, tackling them one at a time each Wednesday, so we can all stress less and pour more. Today's teacher: Greg Tresner, the master sommelier of Il Terrazzo at The Phoenician.

Want to impress your holiday guests? Decant, decant, decant. You'll bring your wine to life and make a big impression... with one simple pour.

UNCORK THE ISSUE: What's the point of decanting wine and how do I do it?

SPILL THE JUICE: "The point of decanting a wine is aeration," says Master Sommelier Greg Tresner of Il Terrazzo at The Phoenician. "With both red and white wines, the flavor and aroma develop as the wine comes in contact with air, bringing out the true flavor profile of the wine. I suggest decanting most wines and often request wine be decanted when dining out."

NOTE THE COMPLEXITIES: "For many people, decanting is kind of a big production, so they say 'why bother?'," Tresner says. "It's gotten a bit of stigmatism from days gone by when sommeliers had a reputation for being snooty, and now that we're working to be more down to earth, it's a technique that's gone by the wayside."

Decanting is actually pretty simple, Trensner explains: "Get a glass decanter that will hold at a bottle of wine or 750mL, open your wine, tilt the decanter to a 45-degree angle, and pour the wine down the side into the vessel."

(Click through for Tresner's tips on decanting and where to pick up a decanter during your last few shopping trips...)

Ensure no sediment from the bottom of the bottle gets into the decanter. Tresner recommends holding the bottle in front of a light as your pour, and stopping when you see the sediment reach the joint between the bottle' shoulder and neck.

"The whole point is to pour it all at once," Tresner says. "Pour it down to the last ounce or ounce and a half, where all the sediment usually collects."

Sediment isn't bad for the wine but can have a bitter taste. "It's just tiny bits of grape skin that form tannins," Tresner explains. "After time, it's like magnetism: They stick together and precipitate out to the bottom of the bottle."

Let the bottle aerate in the decanter before serving. "The time a wine needs to aerate depends on the concentration and energy of the wine, but for general purposes, half an hour should be good to allow the flavors and aromas to develop fully," Tresner says. "Other wines may require longer, and some may need no time at all. Some wines won't open up at all; they just need to get some air from opening the bottle itself."

GET THE GOODS: Find a decanter to suit your tastes and your budget, recommends Tresner.

If you're in the market for something high-end, "Try a crystal shop," Tresner says.

Fancy? "Check out the antique stores," Tresner says.

Sensible? "Riedel makes simple glass decanters that last for a long time," Tresner says. "We've had some 10 years, and they're still solid."

"We're talking practicality here, and you should be able to find one reasonably priced," Tresner says. "You could even use a juice decanter."

(We've raided our mother's crystal collection and found some great pieces to use as decanters: Just another idea for the budget-strapped wine connoisseur...)

SWALLOW THIS: "Decanting is all about increasing the surface area where oxygen can interact with wine to warm up the flavors as the alcohol starts to evaporate," Tresner says.

Come back for class next Wednesday when the Sassy Sommelier dishes on the best bubbly for New Year's Eve, and leave your questions for our wine gurus in the comments below, no hand-raising necessary.


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