Perhaps you were gifted a hip wine decanter, or even drawn to one at an estate sale, but do you regularly use it? Decanting wineis an age-old ritual that has recently regained popularity. An act no longer reserved just for vintage ports and aged Bordeaux, slowly pouring wine from bottle to decanter exposes it to oxygen, which opens up the aromas and flavors. It isn’t just for snobs either, and it doesn’t have to be baffling or intimidating. In fact, the subtle chemical and physical reactions that take place during decanting can soften the wine’s tannic structure and make a real difference in the taste. So let’s uncork some of the mystery surrounding this aeration process with a few essentials about how to decant your wine.
To get started, stand the bottle straight up a day before consumption so the sediment can fall to the bottom. Carefully pouring the wine from bottle to decanter removes the astringent particles; the ounce or two left in the bottom of the bottle can either be discarded or reserved for cooking. Once the wine has fully “opened up” (which can be anywhere from 1-8 hours), it will typically last 12 hours after being decanted. If the wine sits in the decanter longer, it will take on too much oxygen and start losing its flavor and aroma. Old wine will change more quickly and should be consumed before it begins to taste like vinegar. On the other hand, a variety such as Madeira (said to last indefinitely after the bottle is opened) can either be decanted one day for every decade of bottle age or more quickly with a special timed aerator device.
Some say that swirling the wine in your glass can have the same effect as decanting. While it may be a matter of personal preference, it also comes down to the wine’s style and age. For example, with a very old red Burgundy or other delicate wine, minimal oxygen exposure is needed before drinking, and therefore decanting would be unnecessary. However, young reds can be especially tight on the nose or closed on the palate until you assist them in taking in oxygen through pouring and resting.
Depending on the situation and the wine, you might also opt to use an aerator—a tool designed for a more immediate decant. While this does provide a quicker alternative, we tend to agree with Food & Wine magazine, which takes the stance that part of the joy of decanting is “allowing wine to gradually open up and transform over the course of an evening, and tasting it at each step of its evolution.”
While there really aren’t any wines that worsen with decanting, a good rule of thumb is to decant young, bold reds, especially full-bodied, highly tannic wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Nebbiolo. We don’t often think about decanting white wine, however it can be useful to open up higher-end, vintage whites in this way. On the other hand, most everyday young white wines do not need it. Decanting Champagne—especially older vintages—is also becoming increasingly trendy, as it helps evolve the complex flavors and aromas. Decanting here can also be used to soften the aggressive bubbles in young Champagnes. Or maybe that’s the part you like the best! Either way, it can be fun to experiment with decanting various wines into uniquely shaped decanters.
So much more than pouring a wine into a fancy vessel, decanting is both useful and enjoyable. And by keeping this powerful tool in your entertainment arsenal, you’ll vastly expand what you get out of this beloved beverage. Cheers!