Decanting wine basic information

Decanting, along with food and wine pairing, are two subjects in regard to wine that cause the most headache for the average consumer.

To decant or not to decant.

One of the most common questions I am asked is, “When should I decant, and what wines should I decant?”

Decanting, along with food and wine pairing, are two subjects in regard to wine that cause the most headache for the average consumer. 

First of all, what is decanting? It is pouring contents (typically wine) from one vessel to another.

Decanting Wine Reasons

There are two main reasons for decanting. The first reason is to separate the wine from sediment, which is associated with older wines. Certain old wines can have as much as an inch or more sediment at the bottom of the bottle. 

If you have a wine stored horizontally for a considerable period, give it a couple of days to sit vertically before opening and to decant, so the sediment has time to shift back to the bottom of the bottle.

The second reason to decant is to aerate, or “open it up,” as some call it. Some younger wines can be a bit tighter, so pouring the wine from one vessel to another takes in oxygen, which helps open up the aroma and flavors, making the wine more palatable for some drinkers.

Upon opening, if you notice an aroma of rotten eggs or a struck match, it signifies hydrogen sulfide. Don’t worry; your wine is not bad. Give the wine 30-60 min in a decanter to help release those compounds.

The Danger of Time

What happens if the wine sits in the decanter for too long? You can lose flavor, so be careful.

What types of wines benefit from aerating? Tannic and full-bodied wines- such as cabernets, Syrah, big red blends, and so forth. 

Can you decant whites? Yes. But it’s not common. Typically, higher-end wines that can age, such as a great white burgundy or Bordeaux, may be good candidates for decanting.

Opponents of decanting for aeration purposes say decanting can expose the wine to too much oxygen, leading to oxidation and dissipation of aromas. 

When it comes to aerating, there is no hard and fast rule that you have to decant older wines.  Ultimately, if a wine is ready to drink, it is ready to drink, and decanting should not be required.  

If there is sediment, that is different.

When To Decant

How do you know when a wine has sufficiently decanted? Decanting is not an exact science. There are general guidelines to how long you should decant certain wines, but it is also subjective. A good starting point is to allow the wine to decant for 30 minutes, and then taste the wine at different time intervals once it has been decanted and see what suits your palate. 

Here is a fun way to learn which wines benefit from decanting:

Go to a wine store and find a knowledgeable employee.  Tell them you want to experiment on decanting to aerate, and you want different wines to try it out on. 

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