Decanting is not an everyday necessity for any wine drinker, and many wine drinkers will go a lifetime without needing to decant any wine.

Put simply, decanting is merely the process of pouring wine from its original bottle into a carafe or a decanter, and may be carried out for one or more of the following reasons:

1. To separate it from sediment that has formed in the bottle.
2. To let the wine breathe.
3. To present the wine in an attractive way.

Removing Sediment from Wine

Wine sediment is the solid material that settles to the bottom of a wine bottle, and usually means that the wine is of a mature vintage or that it was hand crafted and possibly not filtered. Although these sediment particles - tannins, yeast cells and microscopic pieces of organic matter - are entirely harmless, you should avoid drinking them, as the taste can be very harsh.

The best way to remove sediment is to let the wine stand upright for a day or two to let the solid material settle to the bottom of the bottle. At this point you could serve the wine straight from the bottle (if you pour it carefully), but it's safer to decant it.

To do this, you will need to place a lamp or a candle beside the decanter. Then, as you pour the wine, stand so that you can see the light shining through the neck of the bottle so that you can monitor the sediment as it drifts toward the neck of the bottle. Pour the wine out of the bottle slowly, in one steady motion, so as not to disturb the sediment that has settled to the bottom. Stop pouring when you see the sediment, or cloudy, unclear wine, rushing into the neck.

A quick method of decanting wine is to filter it through cheesecloth, a coffee filter or a funnel and mesh. This technique is foolproof, although some people may argue that this may alter the wine's flavour, particularly when filtered through paper.

Aerating Wine

You may also want to decant the wine in order to aerate it, especially if you have a young wine. This should be done quickly, almost violently, to expose as much wine to as much air as possible. You should then let the wine rest for about an hour before serving. This method will make young reds, especially New World Cabernet Sauvignons, more enjoyable, as the oxygen will soften the tannins and push the fruit forward to intensify the bouquet.

However, if you are serving a mature red wine, bear in mind that some older wines won't last long after opening before their fragile components begin to fade. Decant these wines at the very last minute before you intend to serve them. As a general rule, the older a wine is, the sooner it should be served from decanter.

The decanter should be large enough to hold about twice the amount of wine that you plan to put in it.