How to Properly Decant and Serve Wine


Learning how to pair wines with food is only half the battle. There are some important tricks to serving a wine that you should know, so that you and your guests can enjoy the full effect of its structure and composition.

Sommelier Lee Campbell of Manhattan’s Pranna Restaurant graciously agreed to come back to give TH readers some tips about the proper way to decant and serve wine.

The term “decant” simply means to pour the wine from the bottle into another container that will be used for serving. There are two important reasons why wine is decanted. In older wines, it’s to separate the wine from any residual sediment. Carefully pouring the liquid into the vessel, and leaving the small portion that contains the residue in the bottle, accomplishes this. In younger wines, decanting allows them to “breathe”.  Here’s what Lee has to say about breathing time for a wine:

”Aerating a wine, or allowing it to breathe, is best done through decantation. Wines which are still young, relative to their evolution, may taste tight (the wine’s flavor hasn’t fully developed yet), or reticent (the wine’s full flavor doesn’t come through on the first tasting). Aeration can soften the edges and nudge it along. Some wines may also be a little stinky upon opening, not necessarily indicating a wine is bad, but merely demanding a little air-time.”

Keep in mind that simply opening a bottle does not increase the surface area of the wine that is exposed to air, and therefore does not allow a wine to breathe. The only way wines can breath is by decanting them.

The general rule of thumb is to decant at least 30 minutes to an hour before serving, and always use a glass vessel. Lee says, “Metal can react and plastic can impart off flavors. Also, use a vessel that actually allows air to flow freely. A decanter shaped very much like a wine bottle defeats the purpose. A decanter [that] increases the surface area of the wine is what you are looking for.”

Now comes the question of how to remove the cork. There is no proper way to open a bottle of wine for home consumption. Lee recommends that you use an opener that you are comfortable with, and remove the entire cork in one action.

But what if the cork disintegrates into pieces when you’re removing it, and some of those pieces fall into the wine? Does that mean you need to discard the entire bottle? The answer is an absolute “No,” according to Lee. If you can’t fish out the cork easily, then use a loose cheesecloth, and lightly filter the wine through it.

There are also some important pointers about the temperature of wines at service. Lee says, “I prefer good whites at about 50 degrees and good reds at about 65 degrees. Most people serve whites too cold and reds too warm. Quality wines need more care. If a quality white is too cold, you can’t taste the nuance. If a quality red is too warm, the flavors are not usually as focused.”

And finally, don’t throw out any wine that hasn’t been drunk. You can save it, according to Lee, but it may not retain the complexity it had previously. However, a few wines might even be better on the second day. She recommends, “Pour the wine back into the bottle and re-cork. You might even spray a little wine preserver gas in before closing to ward off excessive oxidation.”

Decanting your wine will allow it to incorporate enough air so that the complexity of flavors will come through even in a less mature wine. It can also remove any sediment that would negatively impact the taste. That’s why it’s important to always decant your wines before serving.

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