Carafe versus decanter

Oxygen has a very important role in the wine process; from production, through ageing in the bottle, to consumption. Oxygenation, allowing the wine to “breathe”, can totally transform the experience. The more air in contact with the wine the more it will open the aromas, up to the point of oxidation. It is not uncommon to have some barely drinkable wines (especially when very young), that can be astonishing after one or two hours of decanting.

There are a few ways to do this, dictated by the wine and time of service.

First is in the case of an old/mature wine for which we will use a carafe. It’s narrower than a decanter as we don’t want the wine to breathe too much and lose its delicate aromas. The second reason is that over time sediment will increase and, while harmless, can be very unpleasant. So prior to serving, keep the bottle standing up or in a cradle for 24 hours to let the sediment settle down. Prepare a light – traditionally a candle as it feels more “authentic” but any light will do the job – and use it to look through the neck of the bottle when pouring the wine into the carafe. When you see sediment stop immediately. You will lose few millilitres but this is a necessary sacrifice.

The second and most common method of oxygenation is the use of a decanter for opening the flavours of the wine. A decanter is wider than a carafe, allowing more wine to come in contact with the air and the aromas to open. With the improvement in winemaking and global warming, wines are becoming more powerful, so nowadays most wines benefit from decanting. Depending on how powerful the wine is, the decanting process can last 30 minutes to several hours. If it can’t wait to be served, a quicker solution is to pour the wine a few times from one container to another.

More and more winemakers filter the wine very little or even not at all before bottling, as it gives more richness. So even young wines will sometimes have fine particles. In this case, follow the same steps as for an old wine.

If you have enough glassware another way is simply to pour the wine in the glass in advance and let it sit. Give it a sniff from time to time to see its evolution.

Whatever your choice, always pour the wine gently. I wouldn’t recommend using an aerator. This is quite violent for the wine and might affect its structure.

Wine is also cultural and this is for me the most fascinating part of it. It reflects the style of a country, a region, a terroir, and eventually the personality of the winemaker. For the following two wines the winemaker is a woman, Martta Reis Simões, and the feminine touch is undeniable.

Quinta da Alorna DOC do Tejo Reserva 2016

Blend of the Arinto and Chardonnay grapes, this is a full-bodied white that can benefit from 30-60 minutes of

decanting. Pale gold colour with a nose of biscuit (the Chardonnay is aged three months in French oak), fresh fig and lilac, developing to some grassiness and pineapple. Very dry and citrusy on the palate with aromas of lemon rind, rock dust, jasmine, lemongrass, and a creamy feeling. Long finish with lime and a fresh minerality.

Quinta da Alorna DOC de Tejo Bela Sombra 2011

Blend of three powerful grapes: Touriga Nacional, Syrah and Alicante Bouschet, this a full-bodied red, yet elegant

with great complexity that will open up considerably after one hour of decanting. Deep ruby colour with a complex and delicate nose of red cherry, cigar box, crushed red roses and white chocolate. Delicate on the palate as well, feminine and powerful with black fruits, spices and smokiness, and a lasting and pleasant finish.

Campolargo Bairrada DOC Calda Bordaleza 2007

Bordeaux blend style with mostly Merlot, this is a wine that has reached its peak and needs to be carafed. Nice bouquet of black fruits, ripe plum, anise and liquorice. Very round on the palate, easy drinking with aromas of blackberry, light chocolate with a zing of vanilla. Drink now or within two years. David Rouault

David Rouault is a professional classical musician, part time wine consultant and full time wine lover, holding WSET
Level 3, Certified Specialist of Wine and Introductory Sommelier diplomas.

Categories World of Bacchus