Double Decanting

Yes, this “how to” video on the subject is set to “take-it-easy,” “love-those-khakis” jazz. But double decanting does seem a little bit like OCD wine service. (And we’re talking an already tightly buttoned-up world, here.) But is there something to it?

The concept of double decanting involves being able to both properly decant a wine—which many of us remain, sigh, befuddled about—and still serve it in the original bottle. The basic steps are as follows:

  1. First, assemble decanting equipment: cool, fancy decanter, ideally with wide surface area for wine to be exposed to oxygen. You’ll also need a funnel (not to be used the way you’d hope) and some clean water.
  2. Second, as you normally would, rinse the decanter to season it with a small amount of the wine. Discard that wine. Weep a single tear.
  3. Pour the rest of the wine from the bottle into the decanter, making sure to discard the last bit of wine, which will contain evil sediment.
  4. Now we head back to the bottle! Pour a bit of clean water into the bottle. Seal (or cover with a cloth) so you can shake and rinse the bottle, ideally gathering all the remaining evil sediment. Discard the water, and repeat this step until the water comes out of the bottle crystal clear, like in commercials.
  5. Now it’s time for some more funnel action (again, sigh, not that kind). Using your handy funnel, pour a bit of the decanted wine back into the bottle to rinse it. Discard this wine (or drink it, secretly, while no one watches).
  6. And now, finally, pour the decanted wine through the funnel back into the original bottle. Hide the evidence of your double decanting—maybe smash it in the fireplace—and serve a presumably freshened, opened bottle of decanted wine to your guests.

Okay, so all that’s done. We can drink now. But is it really worth it? That’s questionable. Decanting (at all) is actually a pretty unsettled issue, with some insisting we don’t decant enough, and Wine Spectator’s Matt Kramer reminding us that “Burgundians”—unofficial hipster kings of wine authenticity—“ traditionally and to this day do not decant their wines.”

The basic practicality of decanting is unquestionable: some wines (not all) have either sediment or aromatic issues that can be removed by pouring the wine into another vessel, allowing scary malodorous compounds to drift away and the wine to “open” up.

Whether “opening up” is good for all wines brings us back to those non-decanting Burgundians, the argument being, in the course of that oxygenation, all the delicate, ethereal aromatics of a beautiful Burgundy will fly away into the greedy atmosphere. Of course, others claim to have had a “shocking number of fine old Burgundies…ruined by sediment,” insisting it’s all a matter of time—more for Bordeaux and California Cab, less for Burgundy, a ton for Barolo, etc. Add to this a doubling of the decanting process—which, according to message boards, some seem to know as “Bordeaux decanting”—and things get, well, doubly complicated.

To be fair, the rationale of “double decanting” is pretty simple: double the wine’s exposure to air. “The double decanting wine method adds more air to the wine because the wine was exposed to oxygen twice, on the way out of the bottle and on the way back in.” But since the question as to what really needs to be decanted, and for how long, is unsettled (Kramer says 15 to 20 minutes for most any bottle, compared to the couple hours recommended elsewhere), doubling oxygen exposure might not be a good thing.

From what we can tell, the main (and only?) benefit of double decanting is being able to serve the wine in its original bottle—not bad if you’re a restaurant, but maybe a bit time-consuming, certainly a delay for your thirsty guest.

Again, as Kramer says of decanting generally, “what was once straightforwardly practical soon became endowed with ritual.” Is double decanting a useful step, something that actually helps the wine express? Or is it just more lacquer of ritual when what most of us need—quickly—is a decent glass of wine?