Confession: I am an American Anti-Decanter

Photo by Tracie Parzen
For many wine lovers, decanting enhances the reward of wine's visual beauty.
Previous entries in our "how-to wine" series have included How to Open a Bottle of Wine, How to Prime Your Stemware, and How Much Wine to Pour and When.

The world of wine is often divided between the decanters and the anti-decanters, in other words, those who like to decant aggressively and those who prefer to decant only out of necessity.

The great New York wine maven Charles Scicolone has often been overheard lamenting overly aggressive decanting.

"Old wine is like me," he'll say. "It doesn't like to be shaken up."

He has a good point: Wine relishes serenity and tranquility, and when wine is poured into a decanter, the agitation can affect its balance.

This is especially true with older wines that may have sediment in them. Most wine connoisseurs will stand older bottles upright two to three days before they intend to serve them so that the sediment will collect in the bottom of the bottle. If this step is omitted, the solids in the wine will mix in with its liquid when the bottle is moved from a shelf, where it lies horizontally. (Fine wines are stored horizontally so that their corks will stay moist; we'll address wine storage in our next post in the "how-to wine" series.)

It's true that old wines often require decanting because of their sediment. To this day, many fine restaurants will gingerly decant old "lots" (as they are called) from their lists, holding a candle or other source of light under the neck of the bottle to reveal the solids when they begin to appear in the flow.

But since the 1980s, when filtration was introduced more widely in European winemaking (in part thanks to new filtering technology) and was required by many top appellations, decanting for the sake of removing sediment has become more of an affectation than a necessity.

Large-format bottles often require decanting. Take the Jéroboam, for example, a 5-liter bottle (in the Bordeaux classification) containing nearly seven 750 ml-bottles of wine. Its unwieldy nature makes it virtually impossible, even for the most seasoned sommelier, to pour it with precision into a wine glass.

But when's the last time you came home from your favorite wine shop with a Jéroboam, Impériale (6 bottles) or Nebuchadnezzar (20 bottles)?

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