Some wine lovers see decanting as optional, while a few question its usefulness. I’m a fan and believe decanters are one of the few essential tools for wine appreciation.
A good corkscrew, a serviceable decanter and some well-designed glasses are all you really need. Everything else is superfluous.
It’s important to note, a decanter can take any number of shapes or sizes. Numerous designs feature a wide bottom to allow for maximum air exposure, which is believed to increase the wine’s aromas, particularly ones derived from the grape variety and winemaking practices like barrel aging, by allowing some volatile compounds to evaporate.
For collectors, decanting can be a crucial step for an older bottle to separate the wine from any sediment that’s developed. Although it’s natural and harmless, sediment might add an unpleasantly gritty or bitter flavour.
Many years ago, while I was attending university, my “decanter” of choice was a Mr. Kool-Aid pitcher. It was plastic, easy to clean and helped to aerate bottles of St. Stephan’s Crown cabernet sauvignon or the other cheap reds I could afford. As memory serves, some of those wines really needed help “opening up” to reduce their harshness and astringency. That kitschy carafe also helped encourage beer-drinking friends to try a glass of wine.
I’m happy to report I’ve upped my decanting game since then. But I still resist the urge to invest much money in a decanter. While I’d admire the fanciful creations that are shaped like serpents or ducks, I know, in my hands, they are a dishwashing calamity waiting to happen. I’d also rather use that money to shop for wine.
I’m not alone here. Guests at Susur, the restaurant that propelled Susur Lee to become an international culinary celebrity, would watch as the sommelier decanted their wine selection into a glass pitcher that sold for less than $5 at Ikea. Not only did the humble jug match the high-low vibe of the vintage Colonel Sanders coin banks from Kentucky Fried Chicken that were part of the restaurant decor at that time, it surely helped reduce breakage costs at the restaurant.
Any clean leak-proof container found in your kitchen could effectively be employed as a decanter. Grab whatever is on hand. Ideally, you’re looking for a jug-shaped vessel with a wide mouth that can hold the contents of a bottle of wine. In a pinch, you could use Mason jars, flower vases, blender, bowls or oversized coffee cups. After pouring the wine into your improvised decanter, funnel it back into the bottle (rinsed clean if necessary), which double decants your wine, giving it two concentrated bursts of aeration, and saves you from bringing a Mason jar full of wine to the dinner table.
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