Like me, I guess many of you have asked themselves when we talk about how to serve wine: is it necessary to open a bottle long before serving, and what’s the point of it ?

First things first: Is it necessary to open a bottle several hours before drinking?

The fact is that there is no difference between opening a bottle 3 or 4 hours before drinking and opening a bottle at the last moment, neither physically nor chemically. The amount of oxygen that enters is barely measurable: it is about one tenth of a milligram per liter. Oxidation is therefore minimal.

The only intelligent way to open a bottle is at the last moment, that is to say, just before serving. This allows the sommelier, or host to open the bottles before the guests in order to control the wine.

Let us get back to our considerations … what is decantation (also called decanting) ?

Decanting is a process that’s been in use for a long time, its’ purpose is to separate the wine from the deposit formed by the wine. This was necessary at the time because the wines had an abundant deposit. As the cellar master used to say “there was enough to drink and to eat at the bottom of the bottle!”

It was therefore left to the consumer to withdraw the deposit by decanting himself.

Nowadays, after 5 years in the bottle, the formation of a deposit is a natural phenomenon for red wines: it is one of the signs of the aging of the color. On the other hand, it is intolerable to find the deposit in a younger red wine or a white wine.

The deposit, mixed with the wine, alters the structure, reduces the aroma and palate causing a rough and bitter sensation.
What are the three rules to remember about decanting:

1. Whatever the nature of the deposit or the age of the bottle, only wines with a deposit will be decanted. In other words the bottle will be served directly.

But be careful, things are not so simple: let’s speak now about aerating the wine, and this is where things get tough. When decanting in advance, the brutal contact with air on an exceptional wine bottle kept for several years, can cause the loss of its’ character, body as well as the wines’ bouquet.

2. If it is necessary, decanting will always be carried at the last moment, In other words, just before sitting around the table, or just before serving the wine, but never in advance! And preferably, in a carafe with a stopper. Decanting must be done with love. It is important to lean the carafe and pour the wine in order that the wine flows along the sides of the carafe.

3. Only wines suffering some damage such as a lack of olfactory sharpness, or the presence of gas, in order to justify early decantation in contact with the air.
In the absence of deposits, sedimentation becomes simply ” decantation ” which is very fashionable nowadays. But beware oversized decanters, for they are a real danger for fine wines.

In conclusion, decanting is getting less important these days. It might be useful to reveal the charms of closed or a young and strong wine; on the other hand it can literally murder old, delicate and fragile wines.

Source “Le gout du vin ” by Emile Peynaud & Jacques Blouin

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