There’s nothing that stirs things up in the world of wine quite like decanting– and when it comes to decanting Champagne? Well, some of you might be bringing out your pitchforks.
This method of aeration reaches new levels of controversy in the sparkling wine and Champagne spheres. So, let’s create some drama, folks! (well, I’ll create the drama, you can sit back and sip as both sides of the aisle get riled up.) We’re getting down to the bottom of all of your bottles of bubbly, and whether or decanting them is blasphemy or a niche industry secret.
What is Decanting
Okay, let’s take a step back. If you strictly indulge in bubbles, you might not even know what decanting is. It’s pretty straight forward: decanting is an aeration technique commonly used in both aged and young still wines. Young wines need some air to unwind and aged bottles need to be removed from their sediment– but regardless of what type of wine you’re decanting, flavor and aroma enhancement should be the end result.
For many, decanting still wine is a no-brainer. The process of decantation often takes place over the course of a long meal, which is one of the many reasons Champagne and other sparklers have been left out. Traditionally, Champagne was enjoyed as an aperitif– it’s been thought of as a celebratory right here, right now kind of drink. Popping your bottle, then pouring it into a decanter to sit can stifle the fun of your toast (and it can be totally pretentious).
But, Champagne and sparkling wine has been reimagined in the last few decades. More and more people are recognizing Champagne to be as serious and complex as its still wine counterparts. And more often than ever, Champagne is enjoyed with full meals and, spoiler alert, even decanted!
Why You Should Decant Champagne
In the case of Champagne, decanting serves to develop flavors trapped in the bottle and softening its effervescence to allow for greater appreciation of aromas, flavors, and textures.
Bubbles are what make Champagne, Champagne! But some argue that unbridled effervescence stands between you and the complexity of your wine, suggesting that if the bubbles are too strong, it can hide the nuance of your wine.
If you’re drinking sparkling wine along with your meal, a short time in the decanter isn’t a bad idea, particularly for Vintage Champagnes that could use some time to breathe and unfold. Those who advocate for Champagne decanting notice the same flavor enhancement that occurs after decanting a still wine– because Champagne is indeed wine, after all.
So, give a moment’s thought to just what it is you’ll be decanting. Is it vintage? Single vineyard? Special Club? A rare expression from a highly-regarded producer? Good reasons all to break out that decanter (and nice round fish bowl stemware, too!) Also, peep that disgorgement date (if available) – recent disgorgements (say, in the past 6-12 months) can sometimes be a bit discombobulated in-bottle, so a little leg-room to stretch out might be just what’s needed!
Okay, I’m sure you’re at the edge of your seats wondering– won’t decanting my Champagne ruin the bubbles???
Let me ease your fear– decantation won’t turn your bubbly into still wine. Champagne bubbles are delicate, but resilient! That is, after all, why you can leave your Champagne bottle open without a bouchon for up to two hours without much decrease in fizz. Time in the decanter will not greatly tarnish the mousse!
When You Should Not Decant Champagne
Certain Champagnes can benefit from decanting, but if you’re popping a celebratory bottle for a crowd of guests: Leave. The. Decanter. IN. THE. CUPBOARD!!! If you aren’t drinking over a meal or popping a prized piece of your collection that you want to savor, then we advise you not to decant.
Also, let’s be real: certain bubbly bottles are meant to pop! Loudly, obnoxiously (sometimes somewhat dangerously) pop! Most Cavas, Proseccos, even some Cremants… there are exceptions, of course, but mostly these wines are simple, straightforward, and fun – they’re not trying to compete with the complexity of Champagne, and they don’t need to. Decanting will only reveal gaps in the tightly-knit, uber-fresh, stupid-delicious bubbly… so skip it!
Pet-Nats are yet another anomaly here… truly a case-by-case basis. Basically, most shouldn’t need it. But, however, on that occasion where the fizz is a bit funky, decanting can be a Miracle Max, raising the dead, plot driver. So keep that tip in your back pocket, and you too could one day play the role of the hero!
How to Decant Champagne
For still wine, decantation is as simple as poring the bottle into the decanter, but bubbles add an extra hurdle. To keep your Champagne mousse from spilling over, start by adding a splash of Champagne to your decanter, and washing the inside of the decanter with that Champagne before pouring the rest of the bottle– this should keep things from fizzing over.
Then, let your bubbly decant! Some wine lovers let their still wines sit for hours and hours– but this is not the move for bubbly. Limit your decant from 5 to about 30 minutes to keep your bubbles intact. After you’ve let it sit, serve your sparkler!
Need to see what the decantation hype is all about? Stock up your stash of bubbles with our daily offer– we’ve got sparklers good for decanting and for toasting.
We'd love to hear your thoughts! Comments can be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org!