"How to decant a bottle of old wine?" I thought surely there must be countless articles written on the topic already. There is no need for me to beat a dead horse. However, after a quick internet search I was surprised by what I found. The overwhelming number of articles started by saying “make sure to have your bottle standing up for at least 24 hours before you plan on opening it, so the sediment can gather at the bottom.” This is the same advice I hear my co-worker tell our customers at the wine shop all too often, but it inevitably carries over sediment when pouring.
So please, allow me to show you a different way to decant an old bottle of wine that minimizes sediment carryover and maximizes the wine out of the bottle. I’ll also explain why you should NEVER have your bottle standing up unless absolutely necessary. Ready? Set. Let’s decant!
First we need the right tools: Ah-so, corkscrew, towels, wine crate (or any box that can keep a bottle stable at an angle), candle, glass decanter and of course a bottle of wine. All sound familiar so far? Next is where we do it differently: Leave the bottle laying sideways with the label facing up in your cellar! Ideally for at least 2 weeks if not months, or even years! The sediment will stick to the side of the bottle the longer the bottle stays in this position, thus making it easier to decant. (Note: If you don’t have a cellar at home, you can choose a cool, dark corner of the house instead, like in the bottom of your closet)
Second, carefully place the bottle into a wine crate lined with a towel. This will help keep the bottle steady. Try not to tilt or rotate the bottle during this transfer. Now the bottle will be sitting at an angle with the neck exposed.
Carefully cut the foil below the second lip then discard, the angle might take a little getting use to, but hey, practice makes perfect right? Give it a quick wipe around the area to remove any dust, dirt, or schmutz that could get into your decanter.
Ah, so here is where the fun begins... Grab the ah-so, use the longer tong first to slide into the side of the cork, wiggle it down until the shorter tong reaches the opposite side. Then use a gentle back and forth motion between the two probes to fully seat it up against the cork.
Grabbing the handle of the ah-so, give one complete turn, using your other hand to stabilize the bottle. This breaks away anything that could cause the cork to stick to the inside of the glass. Slowly pull on the handle of the ah-so, while turning to remove the cork. Depending on the condition and age of the wine, some corks are very fragile and could break or disintegrate. Do not panic if this happens! The cork can be easily filtered out, as explained below.
Wipe the inside of the bottleneck to get rid of any more dirt or fragmented cork pieces.Light the candle and set it to the right of the decanter. (Note: If you pour with your left hand, have the candle set to the left of the decanter)
Gently remove the bottle from the crate, trying not to tilt or rotate the bottle. Hold the bottle so you can see through the bottleneck to the light source, and slowly pour wine into the decanter. Make sure to keep an eye on the bottleneck. Once the first sign of “smoke” (fine sediment that literally looks like smoke as it flows through the bottle) appears, you have two choices; stop decanting or continue to decant past the “smoke” and stop before it gets chunky. Honestly, this is a personal call. If you don’t mind a slight degree of “chewiness” in your wine, then go ahead and pour through the smoke! It maximizes the amount of wine that ultimately gets into your glass.
After you are done, there should only be 1 - 2 ounces of wine leftover in the bottle. Voila! Now you are off to enjoy a delicious sediment free wine! Let’s go back and explore what would happen if the bottle was standing up instead.
Everything starts off the same, but as the wine pours halfway, it hits the bottom of the bottle and washes away the sediment right into your decanter!!
Sometimes there are unexpected circumstances, for example: the cork might break or the bottle might be shaken up. When this happens, you can always filter the wine through a stainless steel wine strainer, or through some cheesecloth.
I hope this article makes you more confident about decanting an old bottle of wine.