I use a simple candle and a carafe with a wide opening to do the decanting.


A word about cork. There is a need and a place for cork in wining and dining. It certainly is not appropriate for corks to swim in the guest’s glass or far worse to shake hands with the guest’s taste buds.

Matured red wines often have deposits which have settled on the bottom of the wine bottle. It is part of the aging process. The way I deal with such deposits starts with removing the bottle carefully from its storage spot. This means for me; If the bottle has been laying and the sediment is on the side of the bottle I certainly will carry the bottle laying to the customer, in a wine basket. If I find the bottle standing up and the sediment is on the bottom, I will carry the bottle standing up to my table. The less disturbance I cause to the sediment, the easier my job to decant the wine is going to be.

The set-up which I use for decanting is a candle and a carafe, with a wide opening. I have stopped using fancy cut lead crystal decanters after several customers complained for they were afraid of poisoning from the lead in the lead crystal.


At the table I show the bottle to the guest and make sure that it is the right one. If it’s an expensive bottle, I might even open the wine list and compare in front of the guest the wine list’s description and the bottle’s label. Experience has shown that it’s difficult to return a five- hundred-dollar bottle to the cellar after opening it, unless it’s not drinkable.
Then I remove the lead foil, all of it from the bottle neck, I even wipe any residue from the neck with a napkin to remove all traces of lead. Then I take a good look at the cork. The more I know about the cork, the easier my job shall be in extracting the same. I attempt to do such leaving the cork in one piece.

What I’m looking for when examine the cork in a bottle of expensive Bordeaux wine are signs of the bottle being recorked which is done. However most wines will have the original cork in it. Here the color of the cork tells me much about what to expect. The lighter areas mean hard cork, the darker parts are an indication for soft cork.

I start my corkscrew in the middle of the cork and screw it into the same, the full length of the cork. Anything short of the cork’s length will lead to the cork’s breaking off where the corkscrew’s worm stops. I slowly and carefully loosen corks in older wine bottles. I avoid any sudden jerk and slowly apply pressure onto the corkscrew’s lever, really slowly.

I use much care to extract the cork in one piece, without spilling any wine. I hand the cork to the guest for inspection. Then I get ready for the decanting process. Here all I do is I lift the bottle carefully and place the bottleneck above a light source. I usually use a candle, but a flashlight would be as good. I start to pour the wine from the bottle into the decanter. The light shining through the bottle’s neck allows me to see what I pour. The whole idea is to transfer as little of the deposit as possible. Whenever sediments approach the bottle’s neck, I slow down to a light trickle from the bottle.
What I attempt to do is to pour into the carafe is the wine and none of the floating grains and flakes. In most cases all but the width of a finger, a centimeter or so, is poured. I leave it up to the customer to decide what to do with the remaining sip.

For the whole process of decanting a steady hand and much care are needed. Older wines with sediments cannot be decanted in a hurry. Bottles brought in by customers which have been shaken up while transported, and if the option to let the wine sit until the sediments settle does not exist, these wines get decanted too. It is the same routine like all others but I add a coffee filter, which I place above the carafe. What I actually do is decant the wine into a funnel lined with coffee filter-paper (lately I use a gold plated reusable coffee filter made by Melita). The filter works well in keeping all the unwanted, floating goodies out of the carafe and out of the guest’s glass.

I use the same coffee-filter-method for Port wines. Nearly all Port-wine-bottle-necks are made of very dark glass which makes it impossible to see what is poured through the neck’s passage, using a filter solves the guessing problem.
Whenever a disintegrating cork is floating inside a wine bottle and it does not matter if it is white-wine or red-wine, it is time to decant. To decant or filter the wine will reduce the need to start to fish cork out of the guests’ wine glasses. The exception is sparkling wine, filtering the same will reduce the bubbles greatly, therefor I cannot recommend it.

A word about cork. There is a need and a place for cork in wining and dining. It certainly is not appropriate for corks to swim in the guest’s glass or far worse to shake hands with the guest’s taste buds.

by helmut schonwalder