Written by Theresa Munoz with expertise from Sommelier Jacques Lacoste  

Decanting wine can be a confusing topic for many of us. Why do you decant? Which wines should you decant? Let us walk you through how decanting works, and when, or if, it is actually necessary.

Decanting a wine can be an important part of the wine drinking process. It serves two purposes: to separate a wine from any sediment, or to aerate a wine so that its aromas and flavours will be more vibrant when serving. The difference between red wines /vintage ports and white wines is that the former naturally produces sediment as they age, though white wines rarely do. A wine’s cloudy appearance is due to stirring up the sediment, and this imparts a bitter taste and a rough texture. After 5 to 10 years, red wine will start to accumulate sediment.

The process of decanting consists of several steps. You have to set the bottle upright for 24 hours or more before drinking, so that the sediment slides to the bottom and is easier to separate. Find a suitable decanter that is clean, clear and can easily hold wine. Remove the capsule and cork the wine. It also helps to hold a light under the neck of the bottle. Pour the wine into the decanter slowly and steadily without stopping, though stop as soon as you see the sediment reach the neck of the bottle. You can also stop as soon as the wine becomes cloudy or when you see dust in the neck. After some time the wine is ready to be served – discard the sediment-filled wine that is left in the bottle.

Sometimes you can aerate a wine in order to boost its flavour. If you open a wine and it seems a little neutral, it might be a chance to try some moderate aeration. Older wines can only be decanted for 30 minutes or so before drinking. Younger red wines can be decanted for an hour or more before serving.

Keep in mind that decanting wine can both improve or ruin a wine. Not much happens just by pulling the cork, due to the slow movement of the molecules to bring about change in the wine – the wine must be decanted for some time in order for change to take place. A few good reasons to decant wine is that it removes sediment and can wake up or soften a wine’s taste. Fine wines taste softer after decanting because it adds oxygen to the wine, which reduces the natural acids and polyphenols that create tannins in the wines. Decanting the wine causes most of the effects to take place, such as the interaction of the wine with air begins the chemical process within the wine. The rate and extent of colour changes in the wine is determined by lots of factors, including age and storage conditions.

IT is widely debated which wines benefit from decanting. Some experts agree that cabernet sauvignon, cabernet blend, malbec, shiraz and syrah are improved by decanting. Others say only older wine should be decanted, though some people decant all their wines regardless of age or variety. In terms of decantation times, 2 to 3 hours is adequate, though anywhere from 6-12 hours will make the wine softer. But bear in mind that extreme decanting destroys the aromatic properties of the wine. It’s important to remember that once a wine is decanted, the process can never be reversed – so make sure it’s worth the risk!

Learn more about wine at the Victoria International Wine Festival — September 23rd and 24th. Buy your ticket at www.vicwf.com or hard copy tickets at Vessel Liquor Store (1609 Fort Street) and at the Parkside Hotel and Spa (810 Humboldt Street). Come and enjoy over 300 international wines at the Victoria International Wine Festival!