Decanting: Art of the Pour |

Decanting: Art of the Pour

Using a candle or other light source under the neck of a bottle of wine can help a sommelier see the sediment in a the wine.
Photo courtesy Getty Images | iStockphoto

The wine was not mine, but I could not take my eyes off the sommelier as she poured it. In her hands was a glass vessel so beautiful, it was art.

A tapered neck, nearly two feet long, extended from a large bowl. As she poured the wine, the liquid flowed in a perfect ribbon of red from the end of the stem into a glass. She smiled and said, “Pretty cool right? It’s called a Swan.”

This decanter was so beautiful that I wanted to splurge on a bottle of something worth decanting. Alas, my budget was such that I could not afford to purchase anything on the list appropriate for a Riedel Swan, which retails for something like $400. I was relegated to watching the sommelier pour for others.

For most people, a decanter is a wedding gift received from the aunt and uncle who didn’t check the registry. It sits near the wine stash and has been used rarely, when a bottle seemed expensive enough to deserve extra attention. In this age, when we drink wines the day we buy them, the decanter may seem as much a relic of a bygone age as an AOL address.

Ah, but let’s not forsake both the usefulness and the tradition of decanting wines just yet.


There are two practical reasons. The first — and this is something that is most appropriate with an aged red wine, or an old port — is to rid the wine of sediment. If you take the time to uncork the wine, find a good light or perhaps a candle to shine under the neck of the bottle, and slowly pour it into a decanter, you can reduce the chances of that sediment (the dregs of the leftover stems, seeds, skins or tartaric acid crystals that naturally occur in the winemaking process) finding its way into your glass. Keep an eye on the neck of the bottle and, as the sediment rises, be sure to slow your pour so that it remains in the bottle and not in your decanter.


The second reason to open a wine and pour it into a decanter is to give the wine a little time to breathe, allowing it to mellow a bit before you drink it, especially if it is a young, tannic red wine. While the exposure to air is one part of the process that is accelerated by decanting, there is a second principle at work, that of the Brownian Motion. Say what?

The Brownian Motion is a scientific principle that details the effects of the constant motion of molecules in a gas or liquid. By opening and pouring the wine into a larger vessel, or even swirling your glass, you change the random dynamic of the molecular composition of the wine. For the better? Perhaps, but we’ll leave that to physics.

Perhaps the most important reason to use a decanter is, well, let’s call it romance. The esthetic of the pour, the tradition of the task and the patience that is required to take the time to decant a wine shows both a respect for the wine and your guests. To use a hand blown-glass vessel, like the Swan that I saw being employed by the sommelier, for the bottle of wine is a celebration and a visual sensation that make the wine special. It added an additional element to the enjoyment of that wine.

It may be as old-fashioned, but decanting has a place in our wine world.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at

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