with Debra Meiburg
Humans aren't the only ones struggling with age. Have a little sympathy for a wine bottle, which has to contend with sediment visibly announcing its maturity to the world. And while humans can sanguinely book a visit to a Thai nip 'n' tuck spa, an ageing wine bottle has only one option: decanting. Like our laughter lines, wine sediment is a perceptible sign of ageing. As the years pass, a wine's colour and tannin molecules combine to form larger and larger chains, somewhat like children's plastic 'snap beads'. These molecule chains combine until they are so heavy they sink to the bottom of the liquid. Decanting separates the wine from the sediment that has accumulated in the bottle.
Wine can be decanted into a variety of containers but whether pouring your prized liquid into a crystal decanter or a bargain-basement pitcher, ensure the container is immaculate. Before decanting mature wine, the bottle should be stood upright for 24 to 48 hours to coax the sediment to the bottom of the bottle. This is because wine bottles are typically stored horizontally and the dark gritty sediment accumulates on the bottle's side. If you are a spontaneous type and planning ahead isn't your forte, then put a handy little tool called a wine cradle in your gadget drawer. A wine cradle allows you to decant your wine at a horizontal angle, roughly the same orientation it was in storage, thus eliminating the need to prepare in advance.
Whichever angle you use, the decanting technique is the same. Completely remove the foil capsule from the neck of the bottle because you will want to see through the neck while decanting. Be sure to wipe the cork and neck area with a damp cloth before inserting the corkscrew, especially when working with older bottles. After removing the cork, carefully clean the bottle's mouth and neck area to prevent debris or mould tainting the wine. Then, gently and patiently, pour a steady, thin stream of wine into the decanter. If the wine gurgles, you are pouring too quickly. Slowly and steadily trickle the wine into the decanter until a fine dark stream of sediment creeps into the neck of the bottle.
Traditionalists and romantics perform this process over a lit candle to see the sediment more clearly; however, any strong light source will do, including a flashlight standing upright. If you do use a candle, hold the bottle a few inches from the flame to prevent soot blackening the neck and obscuring your view. Be careful not to pour so slowly that the candle flame heats the wine. When finished, there should be about 1cm to 2.5cm of wine remaining in the bottle. If fussing with a candle or flashlight isn't your cup of tea, you can wing it by just pouring all but 2.5cm of the wine from the bottle. Mesh strainers can help but most sediment is too fine for a standard strainer so this astringent debris will slip into the decanter.
Wine can be served directly from the decanter or - after rinsing it thoroughly - poured back into the original bottle. If only it were so easy to decant our laugh lines.