Decanters: What’s the Point?

Most us have a decanter of some description tucked away somewhere in our homes. They’re the kind of item many of us receive as wedding or anniversary gifts, and there’s little doubt that they can be stunning things to have around the house… but all too often, they end up gathering dust in a cupboard somewhere, and only ever being brought out of the darkness on some special occasion, or when we feel like showing off a little.

This is a shame for a number of reasons. Firstly, because decanters really allow us to admire and appreciate our wines in a few different ways, and they look fantastic as the centrepiece of a dining table. Secondly – and most importantly – because a decanter genuinely can add a new dimension to our wine drinking experiences, and has the potential to improve certain aspects of our wine.

Despite these facts, many wine drinkers (and even those who take their wine appreciation quite seriously) find decanters somewhat intimidating, or see them as little more than a fussy, old-fashioned accessory with no real place in the present day. We thought we’d take a closer look at what decanters are really for, and how to use them to make the most of your wine. While we may not manage to change everyone’s mind regarding these elegant items, the information that follows might just convince a few of you to dust off your decanter, and put it back in its rightful place on your dining table.

Historic Usages

It’s true that decanters really had their moment to shine in the 18th and 19th centuries. Back then, they weren’t merely fashionable or decorative items, but pretty much essential tools to make wine drinking palatable. The reason for this is a fairly obvious one: back in those days, there wasn’t really any fining or filtering processes for red wine, and as a result, your Barolo or Bordeaux was likely to have a fairly hefty amount of sediment sitting in the bottom of the bottle. Made up of dead yeast cells, bits of grape must, stems, seeds, and skins, this sediment was essentially harmless, but by no means something you’d want to get a mouthful of at the end of your glass.As such, decanters were highly popular during this time, as they allowed you to pour and serve your wine almost entirely free from sediment.

While that may seem like an issue that no longer really affects the vast majority of us, it’s worth bearing in mind that aged red wines will still have some sediment in the bottle (although not nearly as much as they once had). What’s more, here in Australia, the meteoric rise of natural, biodynamic, and organic winemaking has seen wine sediment not only return to many bottles, but almost even become something of a fashion statement. As a result, we wouldn’t be surprised if decanters also came back into style, too.

Tasting with Your Eyes

One of the most convincing reasons to dust off your decanter has everything to do with the most commonly overlooked part of the wine tasting process. We’re sure we’re not alone in thinking that wine is a beautiful thing. It ranges in colour from the palest yellow to the deepest, inkiest purple, and it brings us a huge amount of pleasure to look at. A decanter really gives you the chance to admire the colours and tones of your wine before you drink it, and allows you to further your ability to identify wine by appearance. Let the sunlight catch the glass, and show off this amazing product in all its glory!

Let it Breathe

Of course, the main reason you should be using a decanter is due to the fact that – for certain types of wines – they can really enhance the flavour and overall character of your bottle. This is because decanters give your wine a chance to breathe, and thus ‘open up’ to allow the subtleties and layers of flavour and aroma to really shine. This happens through a process of slight oxidation, in which the wine reacts with the air and any harsh tannins or bitterness becomes softened and smoothed away, resulting in a more pleasant drinking experience. Decanters are particularly effective when drinking a highly tannic wine (for example a Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Malbec or Shiraz), but positive effects can also be achieved with full-bodied white wines, too.

Although many wine guides might tell you otherwise, we also like to use a decanter when serving sparkling wines with a meal. The reason for this is that wines like Champagne, although superb for food pairing, can be a little overwhelmingly fizzy when first poured. Using a decanter gives the wine a chance to lose that first rush of effervescence, making it far more comfortable to drink with your dinner. It might not be for everyone, but we’d encourage you to give it a try and see for yourself!

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