I like to think of myself as fairly clued up when it comes to wine, but the truth is I'm far from it. That became especially apparent when someone asked me about my brand new, shiny decanter. The conversation went something like this:
Me: "Yes, I know, pretty, isn't it? Bought it online for 200 bucks and it's the best decanter in the entire universe."
Friend: "Wow, that's so amazing. What does it do?"
Me: "Well, you know, it allows the wine to breath a bit before I drink it."
Friend: "Yes, but how?"
Me: "Well, ummm. I'm not sure, but it tastes a lot better!"
And then I tried desperately to avoid the topic going forward because the truth is, I have absolutely no idea what a decanter actually does to make anything taste better. In fact, I'm still a bit on the fence with regards to it actually tasting better. That left me with no choice, but to take it on myself to find out just what decanting wine really means.
What is decanting?
The technical meaning is a "device that separates liquid". Back in the day a decanter would make it easier for the servants to serve wine. As in, they can carry around a decanter instead of a barrel. However, nowadays there is a second reason, called "aeration". This is the "letting it breathe" I was talking about earlier. And yes, it is a real thing and a perfectly socially acceptable thing to do. The question that is still somewhat of a debate is whether or not it is in fact effective.
How does it make wine taste better?
A decanter is supposed to mimic the effects of swirling the wine in a glass. In other words, the extra exposure to oxygen is supposed to trigger the release of more aromatic compounds. Not everyone agrees though, with the likes of oenologist Emile Peynaud claiming that the prolonged exposure actually gets rid of the nicer compounds faster. Which also makes sense, because if you leave your wine out, chances are after a while it is not going to taste so good.
A newly opened bottle of red wine, immediately added to a decanter and left for about 30 minutes, could very well make the wine taste better. But leaving it too long is not a good idea and could probably make it taste a lot worse. Just one more reason to guzzle down that wine glass. ;)