There are four new bottles of wine sitting in our case right now, all waiting to be enjoyed and reviewed, but after Super Bowl weekend, this busy week called for more old favorites than new exploration. Two sturdy, standby Zinfandels sat on our counter all week, and while they served us well through girls’ night, and cooking, and Josh working on his real estate tax documents (a process that always calls for wine), they’ve already been recommended and reviewed here.
For the curious, SIMI – Rebel Cask and Sledgehammer, were the two wines of our week. So what to suggest as the wine for your weekend?
Well, it turns out I’m going to stick with those because while they sat on our counter all week, I began to get curious about the process of decanting. We generally keep our open red wine in a decanter with a loose, wooden stopper. I like the look of it, and we have three matching decanters which helps with blind tastings. But as to what’s happening with our wine past the initial “let it breathe” phase, and whether that’s actually a great way to store wine, that’s another matter entirely.
As we’re supposed to get a snow storm here in Minnesota this weekend, I’m recommending your favorite bottle of red, preferably decanted, and enjoyed snuggled up in a blanket with good music or a movie. As to how and why to decant your red wine, here’s a handy FAQ!
Why do people decant wine?
Decanting your wine serves two purpose. First, it can help keep sediment out of your wine glass. By pouring wine from the bottle slowly and smoothly into a decanter, any sediment in the wine should settle to the bottom of the bottle. Consequently, that also means you should never fully invert your wine bottle over your decanter lest you want to dump all that settled sediment into the otherwise clean wine.
To really help the sediment settle out, store the bottle you wish to decant and serve upright for 24 hours prior to pouring. This will help the sediment settle out completely. This is especially helpful for older wines and ports.
As for aerating the wine, there actually stands a fair bit of debate about how long to aerate a wine and whether or not it’s necessary to decant a wine at all. Some sommeliers argue that simply exposing the wine to air, say when it’s poured into your glass and swirled around, is enough to begin to open it up. They may also appreciate sipping the wine as it continuously evolves and changes as it “breathes” in the glass.
Others want to fully experience the full, open flavor on the first sip, and will thus advocate for decanting. For older or “fragile” wines, thirty minutes is about the top end of what’s recommended. For younger or more full bodied wines, an hour is good mark. For a really expensive bottle of wine, consult with a somm or the winemaker’s notes for a recommend service.
Does decanting the wine really matter?
This may be a matter of personal preference, but it’s also something you can easily test for yourself! The next time you open a bottle of wine, pour a little immediately into a glass, pour the rest into a decanter. Try the wine in your glass, then wait 30 minutes or so and come back to try the wine in the decanter. Notice a difference? Prefer one over the other? Now you know when to drink your wine and whether you prefer decanting or not.
Take this to another extreme and try the wine every five minutes or so to see how it changes.
How long can wine stay stored in a decanter?
The quick answer is, generally 2-3 days.
The more complicated answer is, it depends on the wine. The 2-3 day rule generally applies to younger, more full bodied reds, which is the bulk of the American red wine consumer market. So if you opened you bottle Friday night, you’ll likely still enjoy it by Sunday dinner. However, the open decanter may also allow dust and other foreign entities (fruit flies, anyone!?) into the wine, so I’d recommend a stopper.
For more fragile wines, older wines, or wines that you’re concerned about exposing to oxidation, it’s best to return the wine to the bottle and store it sealed. A vacuum pump that removes oxygen from the bottle is the best method to preserve previously opened wine.
What is oxidation?
Oxidation happens when a wine is exposed to air, triggering a series of chemical reactions that convert ethanol (alcohol) into acetaldehyde. This changes the flavor profile of the wine, and is actually part of the wine making process.
If your wine was aged in barrels, it was exposed to oxidation. Open tank fermentation also allows this to happen. In fact, when you age a wine in its bottle, and that bottle is sealed with a cork, the process that transforms that wine is also oxidation as the cork is porous enough for oxygen to reach the wine.
It’s also what’s happening when you decant you wine. So it can be very good!
However, it’s also responsible for that flat taste your wine gets when it’s past the drinking window. If you leave your wine in the decanter too long, or let that open bottle sit on your shelf for weeks on end, oxidation will ultimately make your wine undrinkable.
What kind of decanter should I use?
The one that makes you happiest! 😉
There are some theories about decanter size based on how much air exposure you want your wine to have. Larger decanters are better for full bodied reds like a Zinfandel, whereas a narrow decanter with smaller base would be more suited to a wine like Pinot Noir. Of course, there are also a wide array of artistically styled decanters that add a bit of flair to your table setting while also adding air to your wine!