The "How to Decant Vintage Port" Cultural Byway

Ainsley's picture

In 1992, when the eldest Ainslet was born we decided to buy a bottle of port to lay down and keep until his 21st birthday. Being honourary southerners at the time we trucked off to Harrods and took advice on a good bottle to keep, ending up with a 1985 Dow's Vintage.

Much to my horror, we have, in the blink of an eye, now arrived at his 21st (next month). Casting aside issues about the passing of time and my own mortality, I now need to get to the nitty gritty - how do I avoid screwing up an expensive 28 year old bottle of port and get it out of the bottle in the best possible condition so we can enjoy it on the big day.

I can Google this of course, but I wondered if anyone has actual hands-on experience they can share?

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(it's prolly got a proper name) where you lay the bottle down carefully in a semi-horizontal cage and a handle connects to a screw which tilts the bottle eeeeveeer so slowly. Hope it works!

...f***ed up many a good bottle of wine by failing to do things properly. A good bottle of port - and yours is - should definitely be treasured and treated with great care. This - http://www.wineloverspage.com/port/decant.phtml - is as informative, practical and helpful an exposition as you could want. The main attributes required are a steady hand and a willingness to lose what may appear to be a ridiculously large amount of the wine. Sediment can ruin an entire bottle if you don't take care. The moment it appears in the neck of the bottle as you decant STOP POURING!

Good luck when the time comes and enjoy both the wine and the celebration.

and ANY sorted of conical funnel, just so long as the barrel is clean and untatinted with washing-up liquid, bleach, etc are a handy cheat's way of doing the job without losing too much of the precious juice.
It's o.k. Our wine buyer (in my previous life)would always do it that way.
It takes slightly longer for the wine to percolate thru' the muslin or filter paper and you will have the keep the bottle as close to the angle of pouring during these pauses so make sure you've got a comfortable, firm grip on the bottle first.
Don't be tempted to put the bottle down as this will mix sediment (boo!) with the wine.

Practice with a candle, a more-every-day bottle and a kitchen jug.

A bottle of Dow 1985 would probably cost about £85-95.00 to replace nowadays.

Cheers...

active since the 19th century and responsible for the Dows and Grahams brands. So my parents got to try out a fair few bottles of nice port.
Many years after we left Salwarpe, they were invited to come to ours for a big birthday dinner and my dad ceremoniously brought out an old bottle that had lain in our family for way over 50 years. The considered opinion from the couple was that it had aged so much that it was no longer port but had reverted to brandy - and the colour of the liquid in the glass supported this - brown, rather than ruby. Interesting, but past its peak
I guess this won't be an issue for your bottle - hope it tastes good.

My wine buyer mate is pretty matey with them. I think they like his style and approach: it's a bit away from the usual smart Alec wine buyers.

although I'm out of contact with them now.

Around the same time you bought the bottle, I was studying for my Wine Diploma. (God, it was boring...)

Anyway, the purpose is to get rid of any sediment and also aerate the wine, so remember why you are doing it. That means you need a steady hand and as smooth an action as possible so's not to disturb the sediment. '85 is a good vintage, so I'd suggest following this guide. http://www.thevintageportsite.com/view.php?id=13821

It's probably worth practising with a few bottles of wine beforehand to get the pouring right - and get some confidence!

AS far as the decanting time for that vintage, I don't know.

EDIT: Ha! A choice of advice for you. Hope it's a success whatever you do...

Well, little earlier: I think they'd properly discovered New Zealand and Argentina by 1990.
A conditional pass on part A was converted to a C a couple of years later on the away goals rule or something.

God, they were a bunch of boring old farts.

"The Trust", a shadowy cabal in the background, running the business we call "wine".
Like those stuffed blazers of the MCC, or the FA or RFU but with an appreciation on the subtle differences between Crianza and Reserva.
"The Wine": the Baltimore wine scene..."Hey, punk, do you know the difference between Merlot and Malbec?"
"Gee, no, Stringer. Got any Cabernet?" (cont 94 episodes)

It's anything like the one I bought for my son's 21st it'll taste like shit, so I hope you have better luck. He couldn't have been less interested, anyway...

...if he won't drink it then all the more for me and the FPO

are you having with it?

...it's strictly Pork Scratchings only with Vintage Port

Back in the day, with very old bottles, it would be nigh on impossible to extract the sodden cork from the neck of a bottle so the butler would employ port tongs. These are like a pair of grips with a half-round indent at the business end of each tong. Heated in the fire until very hot they are then applied rapidly to the bottle neck just below the cork, which is then brushed with a feather dipped in cold water. The sudden application of heat and cold is enough to cleanly break the glass, you simply remove the top and decant. That's the theory anyway, I have never seen this actually done - has anyone?

Port tongs were the 18th Century equivalent of muffin tops.


red hot metal on your big toe

It's All Gone Port Tongs?

Is this the homeopathic method of decanting?

of the expression, "To crack open a bottle". The other way they did it in the officers mess was to slice the top of the bottle off with a cutlass.

So, assuming you don't have port tongs or a cutlass, I would go with a straightforward coffee filter. Last posh bottle of port I sunk was a croft "77, and it was exquisite. Enjoy!

with your teeth and throw the cork into the fire

in a little off licence in a village on Dartmoor some years back. The shop was obviously frequented by well-to-do types with more cash to burn than I, and so I nervously picked over a few bottles that lay in a crate on the floor. I think the crate had originally contained carrots. As expected, there were a few bottles of decent brand port to be had, and I was pleased to find one for sensible money, given that the nearest Waitrose was probably a half hour's drive away. As I selected my choice, I noticed a bottle at the back of the crate with a curious, barely legible label and a hand-written price tag where mine had a sticker from a pricing gun; I glanced at the price, and then made for the till with my original selection. The dusty bottle with the hand written tag was priced at £250.

had been keeping a very fine bottle of single-malt whiskey for my nephew's 21st. On the appointed date, it was ceremoniously produced, the seal had been suspiciously broken and the contents were found to have been watered down. A certain teenager had had a party , imbibed and added water to cover up his crime.

Ainslets 21st duly arrived and in the end I decanted the 1985 bottle using a coffee filter after leaving it upright for 24 hours. The process worked perfectly but I have to say the actual port was a slight disappointment - absolutely nothing wrong with it but just lacking any WOW factor. Perhaps our expectations were just too high ?

Anyway a good time was had by all which is really what mattered. Apparently we have another one for the next son down in 18 months which I had forgotten about completely !

Pleased to hear it went well and that the port, whilst not exciting, did not fall flat on its arse! Now you only have another 18 months until the next one.

you'll anticipate that the next one is going too be a bit of a let-down but it might be a huge improvement.
Now you've opened it, it's now timely to say that 18 months from now might be a good time to be tucking into yer 1985s anyway. They should last longer - maybe another 10 years - but if you've got the same shipper and vintage again then it could be how it was stored before you bought it that has affected its longevity rather than a comment on that producer/shipper's wines in general.