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Aerating, Decanting, Tempering

Three ways to perfect or ruin wine.



All about Decanter

In almost every household of wine enthusiasts, you can find a decanter. However, whether it is actually used varies greatly. It is most commonly used in private homes when guests are present, as it adds a touch of elegance.


When a host goes through the effort of selecting the right wine, they want to present it beautifully, allowing its flavors to shine and enhance the meal or occasion.




 

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As a wine enthusiast, you may have experienced something similar.


When you are a guest, the "D-word" often comes up, especially when the main course is served with red wine.



Decanter

In my case, this is followed by the question (directed at me since my profession was already asked about during the aperitif) of whether the hosts should decant the wine. This usually ends with everyone offering their "best service" tips before I can catch my breath – as everyone has their own "I heard once" stories and "this is how I always do it" anecdotes.


What does the "D word" stand for?

Decanting refers to the action performed with a decanter.


What does decanting mean?

In simple terms, it means separating solid and liquid components in wine.


"What?! Solid components in wine? You must be drinking really bad wine, huh?" someone might comment at this point.


No, not at all. Natural products inherently contain more than just water, and even water itself consists of many small particles. Whether the wine has been filtered by the winemaker or not, sediment can form over time.

All about Decanter

For example, in white wine, acidity can form into crystals called tartaric acid at cold temperatures. In red wine, it's the pigments from the fermented grape juice that settle over time. It's quite simple, isn't it?


Once you understand this point, many wine-related topics will start to make more sense to you.


Imagine that over time, the components of wine snuggle closer together. We can relate to this from many situations in life. When we spend a lot of time in close quarters, we get closer. When these substances have the opportunity to cling to each other (not everything is compatible), they become heavier over time and sink to the bottom of the bottle. That's when these elements become visible to us.


If the bottle is stored upright, the "sediment" slides to the bottom of the bottle.


If the bottle is stored horizontally, these elements distribute themselves along the belly or length of the bottle. This is also why it is recommended to lay down bottles you intend to store for a long time.


All about Decanter

The solid components have more surface area to distribute themselves, and because of the larger surface area, they provide more contact between the wine and the sediment.


In some wine styles, the contact between wine and sediment or other unusual components in the wine is desired. For example, Champagne undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle, and the element you find at the bottom of the bottle is the spent yeast, which settles there after finishing its work. However, the winemaker removes this yeast, so you don't end up drinking yeast.


Don't worry; you can learn more about Champagne in our sparkling wine expert course.


But let's continue with today's topic..


A significant portion of the flavors we find in wine comes from the solid components of the grapes, not just the liquid within the grapes. If you think of it like a tea bag, it's easier to understand that the longer the liquid components are in contact with the solid ones, the more intense the flavor change. Just like when you put a tea bag in water, the taste of the tea leaves transfers to the water, and the longer you leave the tea bag in the cup, the stronger the tea becomes.


You decant when the wine has solid components that you want to separate, which form once the wine is already in the bottle. In almost all cases, the sediment is barely perceptible on the palate. For me, decanting is primarily a form of gesture, a way of celebrating. In a natural product, sediment is not a quality issue.


In some gastronomic establishments, you will see wine slowly poured into the neck of a carafe held over a candle. This illuminates the wine and allows you to see when it has sediment.

All about Decanting

While decanting, aeration is already happening. So, decanting combines both activities.



Aerating


What does aerating mean?

In this case, we try to get as much contact as possible between the wine and air because wine changes with the addition of oxygen.


You can imagine that each aroma has more surface area for its development and can take up more space. Once we have more surface area for aromas, we can inhale more of these aromas through our nose and mouth.


A simpler form of aeration is already common when drinking traditional wine: swirling the wine in the glass. By swirling the wine in the glass with circular motions, we introduce air into the wine. It's similar to folding egg whites into a batter.


All about Decanting

By doing this, we provide more surface area for aromas, allowing them to naturally escape from the wine and move directly into our nose along the glass. Volatile aromas rise effortlessly through the air vortex. Since we ideally hold the glass at an angle under our nose, the aromas magically ascend from the glass to our noses.



All about Decanting

Which wines benefit from aeration?

In short, any wine that needs to unfold and is not too delicate. By delicate, I mean the aromas that appear less concentrated in matured or very elegant wines. You can't "use up" aromas, but their intensity decreases significantly, and in wines that are too old or over-aerated, they may become almost imperceptible.


Very elegant wines have lighter or finer aroma profiles. On the other hand, very old, mature wines have aromas that have developed painstakingly and would fall apart at a certain point if pushed too far. Once a wine falls into these two categories (delicate or old), it's necessary to take a sip first to assess whether there is still more to be gained from the aromas or whether over-aeration would cause the aroma to disintegrate, much like dust.



Acidity & Air


Another critical factor in deciding whether to aerate a wine is acidity.


Acidity is a fixed component of the backbone of wine. It is always present as long as the wine is alive. Without acidity, a wine literally tastes lifeless.


Acidity also changes with the influence of air. That's why I aerate very young wines where the acidity is still 'immature,' making it more intense or aggressive.


In the DACH region (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), more acidic and young wines are consumed, especially in Austria and Germany. The younger the wine, and the more acidic the grape variety, the more beneficial it is to aerate the wine. If you're drinking a wine before its aging potential, I recommend aerating it. This gives the wine some added aging.


Interestingly, at this point, it's worth noting that winemakers also work with air when, for example, they age wine in wooden barrels. Aside from the woody aroma of fresh barrels, used wooden barrels that no longer impart flavors are often used to give young wines the impression of greater maturity more quickly.


Unlike stainless steel tanks, wooden barrels are not airtight. Depending on their size, wine in a wooden barrel is exposed to air and interacts with it.


All about Decanter

Temperature


Why is temperature important?


If you enjoy many wines, you may come across situations where a wine sometimes appears overly alcoholic or, conversely, seems to lack any aroma or taste.


In these cases, the wine's temperature is often the cause, although not always. If a wine is too cold, the aromas are very restrained and not very expressive. If a wine is too warm, it unfortunately emphasizes the very aromas you don't want in the foreground, such as a slightly alcoholic or pungent touch.


In the world of wine, it is generally better for a wine to be too cold than too warm. A wine will naturally warm up, but it won't cool down on its own.


In a glass or a thin-walled decanter, you can quickly raise the temperature by placing your hands around it, increasing it by a few degrees.



In summary, do I need a decanter?


In a household, a decanter is not necessarily or truly needed for decanting. However, it is certainly useful for aerating wine. If you enjoy opening very mature wines with sediment, it is essential.


The size of the decanter also determines the surface area that the wine has for contact with oxygen. The larger the surface area, the more contact between the liquid and oxygen.


All about Decanting

That's why there are often smaller decanters for sparkling wines and white wines, and larger ones for red wines, as they require different amounts of air. A simple water carafe can do this job if you don't have a decanter.


You should use a decanter for aromatic, robust red wines and white wines. Acidic wines and young wines, especially young red wines, benefit from exposure to air. Is it necessary? No. A decanter is a tool to 'work' with wine in your own home. If you want a wine to remain exactly as it tastes when you first taste it, leave it in the bottle, preferably sealed with a cork or another tool to reduce air exposure.


How To's


Tasting Atelier Decanter


For example, if you have a wine that smells a little musty right after opening it, give the wine some time in the bottle (4-5 minutes), pour a sip, swirl the wine in the glass, and taste it. Does it seem immature, acid-driven, and/or could it be more harmonious? Then decant it and give it some time to 'work' in there.


However, if you notice in the glass that the wine is already very pleasant to drink, just as you like it, I wouldn't put it in the decanter. In that case, you've already seen how the wine tastes with a little air in the glass. If you like it that way, leave it. Too much air can make a wine taste flat, weak, and lifeless.


Trust your own taste. That's what it's there for. You are the host and know how the wine should taste for the occasion or meal. I firmly believe in you and your taste, and that you can handle any wine situation. Practice and drinking wine are what make the expert. Theory helps only to a certain extent.


Tip


If you're ever unsure whether a wine should be aerated or not (although I always encourage following your gut feeling), you can try the following option.


Take a small 0.3 or 0.5-liter carafe and pour only half or a third of the wine bottle into a decanter.


Set up a second wine glass for each guest. Turn it into a small tasting and let each guest try a sip of wine from the bottle and a sip from the decanter - the difference will be significant, and you can involve your guests in the decision-making process. This is especially great if you have a second bottle of the same wine for the evening.

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