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Did You Know? – Decanting

Decanting – What? Why? How?

Many ports are bottled unfiltered to allow them to continue ageing. Ports bottled this way can throw a reasonable amount of sediment or ‘crust’ as they age which can be detrimental to the enjoyment of your drink if it ends up in your glass. It is very difficult to avoid this happening when pouring glasses straight from the bottle due to the disturbance cause by repeatedly tipping the bottle. Decanting also aerates the port, which allows its delicate and complex aromas, dormant during the ageing process, to open up and express themselves. This is particularly important for younger vintages.
Before decanting your port ensure that the bottle has been stood upright and undisturbed for at least a couple of days, the longer the better, especially for older vintages.
First ensure that you have a clean decanter ready (or a clean jug or bottle will do), then, being careful to avoid agitating the contents, remove the cork seal and wipe away any dust before cautiously inserting the cork-screw. Keep in mind that corks deteriorate over time and can become very delicate in older bottles, so it is important to treat it with care and pull gently from the bottle, so as not to snap the cork*.
Now gently pour the port into the decanter (a funnel can help here), watching the neck of the bottle closely, and stop pouring when you first see signs of sediment. In some cases, such as with very old vintages, it may be advisable to use a piece of muslin cloth to catch any stray particles.
Once you stop pouring DO NOT be tempted to pour more out of the bottle – doing so carries the serious risk of wasting your efforts. If you feel that there may be more usable port in the bottle, leave it there until that which you have decanted is finished, then you can try pouring again without risk.
All that’s left to do now is drink it!
Depending on the age of your bottle you may have anything from four or five hours to four or five days before you start to notice degradation as the port develops in the decanter. As a general guide, 40 year old port can be expected to show signs of oxidation within eight hours whereas a 10-20 year old port may take four to five days.

*The Problem with Corks

The home truth – Sometimes corks break, even in the hands of the most experienced and careful.
If \ when this happens to you – relax, breath – everything is fine, I promise.
First do your best to remove as much of the cork from the neck of the bottle as you can. Often it is possible to lever the rest out with a decent corkscrew although a butlers thief is the best tool if you happen to own one.
In the event that you just cannot get a grip on that last bit deep in the neck just push it through into the bottle. It may make it harder to pour but it won’t harm your precious liquid!
Finally, continue to follow the instructions above and decant your port.
Just be sure to strain it through a fine sieve or cloth in order to remove those pesky bits of cork.