It may seem pretentious to make a fuss about decanting wine, and for many young wines available in supermarkets and winter merchants there’s nothing wrong with just opening the bottle and drinking the wine.

But for something more upmarket, decanting serves a purpose, and that is to enhance the wine by aeration and the removal of any sediment that may have accumulated. And at a very mundane level, having a decanter of wine on the table for a dinner party is an agreeable touch.

Decanters can be purely functional, creating a wide surface area to assist with aeration and a suitable opening for mess-free pouring. They can also be stunningly beautiful, as companies like Riedel have pushed these essential wine accessories into the realm of art – admittedly at huge prices. Many of their beautiful decanters are handmade, created by artisans at the top of their craft.

If you’re going to take the time to let the wine breathe naturally, rather than using an aerator, a beautiful wine decanter adds pleasure to this process.

What does a wine decanter do?
When you open a bottle of wine, the oxygen mingles with the wine at its surface. The alcohol and other volatile compounds evaporate, releasing aromas and casting off some of the bitter taste. Because this process only happens where the wine contacts the air, fully breathing the wine can take a long time if the surface area is small. Decanters provide a larger surface area to speed up this aeration process. They come in a variety of beautiful shapes and sizes, so their elegance also adds to the ambiance as you pour each glass.

How to best decant wine
It may take up to 24 hours for the wine to fully breathe, though you’ll notice a big difference after as little as 30 to 40 minutes with most wines. Natural processes take care of most of the aeration process. The only thing that you have to worry about when decanting wine is the sediment. Sediment forms in aged red wines when tannins deteriorate and erode. You don’t want these in the final pour, because they cloud the wine and give it a gritty, bitter taste.

First, let the unopened bottle sit peacefully for about 24 hours. This lets the sediment collect at the bottom.

Next, open the bottle and wipe the neck clean to remove any cork residue. Then pour the wine into the decanter. You’ll want to do this slowly, being mindful of the sediment. If you like, you can shine a light through the bottle to watch it and make sure it stays inside. You’ll generally need to leave about a fluid ounce of wine in the bottle, which can be discarded. If you want to be sure no sediment slips into the decanter, you can also pour through a filter.

Choosing the Perfect Decanter
There are a variety of decanters on the market that range from simple to elaborate. Luxury decanters are works of art, usually handmade and created from fine, lead-free crystal. Their beauty and craftsmanship are worthy of presenting your most precious wines. But there are many far simpler, but still elegant decanters that are fit for purpose.

…even though the vast majority of lower-priced wines bought from a supermarket or wine merchant are unlikely to contain sediment, they will still benefit from the aeration that decanting brings. For these wines, for domestic consumption, just sloshing them into a measuring jug works just as well. Keep the decanter for special occasions.

In truth even the professionals disagree over the benefits and details of decanting. Some feel that the extra boost of oxygen opens up the wine, but others feel that just swirling the wine in glass achieves the same result and that decanting makes the wine fade faster.

The only way to be certain that decanting has had any effect is to open two identical bottles of wine, decant one but not the other. Then taste and decide for yourself. If you can’t make your mind up, then you have two bottles to console you.

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