Much is made of decanting vintage port, so much so it can put people off even trying one of Graham’s wonderful vintage ports for fear they will somehow get it wrong and ruin the wine.
The truth is, Vintage Port is one of the easiest and most straightforward of wines to decant. In fact, we might even recommend you practice your decanting skills on lots of port, before attempting to decant dry table wines!
Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker, is slightly impatient with all the mystery. He said the simplest fail-safe rule, which will do no harm to any well-made vintage port up to 40 years of age, is to open and decant the wine two to three hours before drinking. For most of us, intending to drink our vintage ports after a meal, that means opening the bottle and decanting before we settle down to dinner. What could be easier?
When you take the bottle from the cellar or shelf where it has been resting on its side, simply stand it upright – gently – and let it stand. If the bottle is less than 40 years old, 5 to 10 minutes is adequate – the sediment in Port is quite heavy and will settle down quickly. If the wine is very old – more than 40 years – then Charles suggests letting it stand upright a half hour. More than that is hardly necessary.
Extract the cork gently, and then pour the wine into the decanter: hold the wine bottle nearly level, so the wine flows smoothly with adequate airflow passing over the wine in the neck of the bottle – this way the wine will fall without the gurgling that comes from blocking the passage of air into the bottle.
Decanting is easiest with good light behind the bottle, so you can see clearly the sediment beginning to come into the bottle neck and stop pouring. If in doubt, simply shift and pour the remaining wine into a glass – that way if there is sediment, you’ve not poured it into the decanter, on the other hand, if the wine is still clear, you can empty the glass contents into the decanter too. It is always worth taking a quick nose and taste of the wine from the just-opened bottle, and comparing it with the aromas and flavour after a few hours in decanter.
If you are concerned that you may not be able to see the sediment when it reaches the bottle neck, then you may wish to use a funnel lined with a piece of muslin (thin cotton cloth) to catch the sediment as you reach the end of the bottle.
So that’s it:
- Let the bottle stand upright 10 to 15 minutes if it’s less than 40 years old, and up to 30 minutes if it’s older.
- If your vintage port is less than 40 years old, decant 2-3 hours before you plan to enjoy your wine; if it is older, better to decant just 30 minutes to an hour before.
- Pour the wine gently into a decanter and stop pouring when you see the sediment moving into the bottle neck.
- Optionally, you may pour through a funnel lined with a piece of muslin.
- Enjoy your vintage port.
Above all, remember part of the great pleasure of fine bottle-aged ports is observing how the aromas and flavours unfold over time; you needn’t worry about missing some single perfect moment, these wines will give pleasure over the entire course of a relaxed evening with friends and family.