How to breathe your wine

At finer restaurants you may have seen the waiter or sommelier decanting wine prior to serving. Far from being a ritual in wine presentation, decanting wine can often bring out the best in a fine wine.

Breathe easy

The primary advantage of decanting wine is that it allows the wine to breathe. This is especially important with premium red wines. When a wine is being poured into a decanter it aerates the wine, then the decanter itself increases the surface contact of the wine with the atmosphere. On the other hand, simply removing the cork rather than decanting wine doesn’t allow much air into the bottle, and it will probably take hours for the wine to benefit from air contact.

Maybe you don't own a decanter?

Chances are, many of us don't actually have a wine decanter in the cupboard. If you really enjoy your wine, think about buying one for your next dinner party. Otherwise, you can also gain the benefits of decanting wine by looking for a clean water jug or similar wide-mouthed glass serving jug. Choose a clear (not patterned) glass container that will allow a full 750ml bottle to be contained while ensuring a generous surface area.

Serving wine in a decanter

When decanting wine, pour the wine slowly and try to keep the sediment in the bottle. Don’t pour all the wine if you notice any sediment, which is quite natural for a good red wine. Leave those last few millilitres of wine in the bottle, leaving the wine you are serving clean and clear.

Glassware and wine

Choosing the right glassware can really add to the enjoyment as well as the flavour of a wine. You may have noticed how the glassware in department stores is differentiated by wine style or grape. Some glassware manufacturers have a specific glass for every varietal, which can add up to a lot of different shaped glasses.

How glassware affects the flavour

You’ll notice the difference when drinking a wine. Narrower glassware directs the wine to the centre of the tongue as you drink it, diminishing the acidic flavours which are tasted by the sensors at the sides of the tongue. So best enjoy a crisp Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc in a narrower glass. The same is true of a Champagne, as the flute is tall and narrow which minimises the effect of the crisp acids and heightens the sensations of the rich honey, bread and yeasty flavours which are detected on the tip and centre of the tongue, while the aromas are directed up the nasal passages.

Glassware for specific wines

Wide rimmed, shallower glassware will favour a Chardonnay or Pinot Noir which typically has lower tannins and lower acid levels. A Shiraz is best served in larger capacity glassware with a narrower rim to minimise the tannins. Cabernet Sauvignon, often the most tannic of reds, also benefits from a larger capacity glass though with a narrower rim than Shiraz glassware. Thinner-walled crystal glasses are preferable to thicker glassware. Don’t hold the glass by the bowl, place your finger firmly around the stem or base so that your body temperature won’t affect the serving temperature of the wine.

Fun with glassware