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The Art of Wine Decanting

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For your everyday wines that is to say, those wines which you will probably drink as a matter of course with some or all of your meals – it is not necessary to go through the ritual of decanting over a candle. Use a decanter that is perfectly clear and white, i.e. colourless, and pour your wine in just as though you were pouring it into a glass. That is all you need do. With the better clarets, some Burgundies and port, especially vintage Port, you have to be more careful but, again, it is always a simple and rather pleasant ritual.

If you have a few days’ notice of serving, merely stand the bottles at room temperature, then decant straight from the bottle in front of a candle or an electric torch. The light helps you see when the sediment is beginning to come with the wine from the bottle into the decanter. You must stop pouring at this point. If you are drinking your wine on the same day, use this method. You will need a cradle, just the usual wicker cradle that can be bought from almost any store, and which you see commonly and quite unnecessarily used in restaurants. Take the cradle to the bin or wine rack, take out your bottle from the bin and place it in the cradle in the same position in which it is lying in the bin, that is, with the sediment still in the bottom of the bottle. Take your cradle to the table and remove the cork carefully.

Wipe the neck and shoulders of the bottle and wipe the top, both before and after the removal of the cork. Grasp the bottom of the bottle and remove it from the cradle. Hold it in front of a lighted candle or electric torch so that you can see the light through the wine at the point where the neck joins the shoulder of the bottle. Decant the wine steadily in one pour, not letting the wine regurgitate back into the bottle by altering its position. Watch the light through the red wine, and as the bottle empties you will see the crust at the bottom of the bottle starting to come through the neck. It does not matter about an odd wisp or two, but when the main body of the crust starts to move through the neck stop pouring immediately and either use the rest of the wine for cooking or throw it away. Even though there may be a quarter of a bottle left, it is of no earthly use and you will spoil what you have already decanted by continuing to pour. When this operation is finished, you should have a candle-bright, crimson wine in your decanter, which should be a delight to see and a greater delight to drink.

Vintage Port is, however, a special subject, especially if it is one of considerable age. You may have trouble in getting your cork out in one piece, because this type of wine tends to rot the cork and that is why many of the older ports have been re-corked. If the cork breaks, then I advise you to use an ordinary glass jug and a very fine tea or coffee strainer. Put the strainer on top of the glass jug and pour as though you were pouring into the decanter. Then fish out the pieces of broken cork as best you can. You will also find in the port a substance known as ‘beeswing’ , which is not in itself as harmful to the wine as the very much heavier crust at the bottom of the bottle. If you are using a strainer, the beeswing will be caught ‘in it, but if you are not, decanting straight from bottle to decanter, it will do no great harm if a few pieces of beeswing get in. Both beeswing and crust are formed from living organisms in the port and seem to play an essential part in the development of this superb wine. Port is about the most difficult wine to decant properly and most worth the trouble.

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