Posted by Francesco Properzi Curti
wine, who does not know wine? All of us, sooner or later, had the pleasure of tasting even just few drops of it, just wetting our lips, in order to try to understand how it can be so appreciated by people, to the point of having brought our beautiful Italy to be the first country in the world for its production.
For many years now, wine associations have been contributing to the spreading of the notions needed to understand how much knowledge, professionalism and hard work are behind that “simple” glass of wine and to allow the appreciation of it even in total anonymity, that is without that information – such as a high price or a blazoned label – that could influence our final judgment.
But let’s talk about today’s subject, decanting: a practice well known to most of people, but sometimes not perfectly understood and source of embarrassing misinterpretations.
This procedure is mainly used for red wines having a good body structure and intended for a long period of aging, or when they were not subjected to an adequate number of racking and filtrations. Decanting has the precise purpose of separating sediments that could be formed inside of a bottle of wine and avoiding in the absolute way that they could end up in the glass of the one who is about to taste it.
It is important to point out that the sediments I am referring to, which are mainly formed by residues of tannins, anthocyanins and tartrates, must not be necessarily considered as the consequence of a fault in the wine, in particular when this wine was made to be aged for a long time in cellar, but they are often characterizing substances, indeed, indicating that the product has undergone very few treatments before being bottled.
The presence of sediment
Sometimes the presence of sediment can also concern some white or sparkling wines, the so-called wine crystals, that are residuals of tartaric acid. As their presence does not affect neither the taste nor the aromas of wine, indeed it could even make the perlage vanish in sparkling wines, the procedure is strongly discouraged and it is not done.
Because of the generous and wide shape of the decanter, this procedure will also serve to oxygenate the wine and allow it to release all the complexity of its aromas, but let’s start decanting…
Before starting, we will need to get: a small serving table (guéridon), decanter, tasting glass, corkscrew, candle, matches, cloth napkin and two saucers.
Choose the bottle to be tasted
The first thing to be done is to go to the cellar with the wine basket in order to take the bottle to be tasted, gently lift it from the place where it is kept and put it in the wine basket with the label clearly visible, facing upwards. At this point, avoiding any jolt or sudden movement that could cause sediments to be suspended, we will place the bottle on the serving table, already well provided with every necessary tool.
In case we are not at home, but we are working at the service table of a restaurant and the bottle has been ordered by a customer, the second thing we should do would be to bring the bottle to the customer with the utmost care and delicacy, showing it to him or her on the left side, still well laid in the wine rack and with the label clearly visible from the top, in order to have the confirmation that it is just the bottle he or she requested.
Explain the bottle
As it is a bottle that could have a certain importance, the sommelier will necessarily have to spend some words about the producer, the characteristics of the wine and why it was a good choice to order it. No one will ever pretend a sommelier knows all the wines of the world, it would be improbable to even imagine it, but it is necessary that he or she knows the ones he or she is going to serve.
As soon as the customer has confirmed the order, and avoided the risk of opening a bottle different from the one the customer thought he or she was going to order, we will light the candle, moving a little bit away from the place where decanting will take place in order to avoid the dispersion of the sulfur match smell, and then we will bring the lit candle back to the service table.
Uncork the bottle
The bottle will be delicately uncorked without taking it out from the wine rack and the cork will be smelt for a first verification of any possible olfactory imperfection; then a small quantity of wine will be poured in the glass in order to make a further taste-olfactory verification. In case the wine should show any defect, the bottle will be replaced, apologizing to the customer, otherwise a quick tasting will be done by standing near the bottle.
At the end of the tasting, therefore after having verified the integrity of the wine, a small quantity will be poured in the decanter in order to pour it and to finally proceed with the decanting.
The sommelier will very delicately take the bottle, with or without the wine rack, by keeping its inclination and will slowly start decanting the wine along the neck of the decanter, which will be inclined in order to make the operation easier and to avoid any bubbling.
During this phase, it will be necessary that the shoulder of the bottle, which is the curved part preceding the neck, is exactly in line between the operator’s eyes and the flame of the candle. This position, together with the slowing down of the flow of the decanting process, will allow the detection of the sediment depositing in the shoulder, until the interruption of the flow itself, which will prevent the sediment from rejoining the wine.
After the decanting process has been interrupted, therefore after having left sediments in the bottle and having sacrificed with them a very small part of wine, the sommelier will verify the clarity of the wine in the decanter by observing it against the light of the candle that will be turned off, without blowing on the flame.
Taste the wine
When decanting is completed, a very small quantity will be poured to the customer who ordered the bottle in order to let him taste it, and once he or she will get his or her approval, it will be done in the usual way.
Of course it will be the sommelier’s duty to rearrange the table, leaving the cork just extracted at the customer’s disposal on his or her table, on one of the two saucers, while concluding this demanding operation.
It is important to remember decanting is needed only with the wines we talked about, besides the fact that sometimes it can be done in order to please a client who is particularly interested in it.
In case the goal should be just to oxygenate a wine in order to allow it to better express its aromas, then remember it will be enough to decant it, with the same delicacy, in a large carafe and wait for some minutes.