Do I Need to Decant the Wine?

Question from Janice: On the back label of a wine I just bought it says to decant it for an hour before serving it. Which wines need to be decanted? How do I know how long? Does it matter what kind of decanter I use? 

Reply: Hi, Janice. Thanks for writing! You can decant just about any wine except for a bubbly, but reds seem to be the wines that benefit the most. Especially vintage Port. 

There are two different reasons to decant your wine. In short: 

1. To help young wine become more expressive.
2. To remove old wine from its sediment. 

Many of us like to decant young reds because it makes them more expressive. Wine that, initially, seems to have nothing to say may open up like a fragrant flower on a warm afternoon! If there’s any off aroma, it will blow off unless there’s something really wrong with the wine. It’s fine to splash it around a bit to give it some extra aeration.

I’m not very scientific about how long. Big reds may need more time than the lighter ones. An hour or two should be plenty of time. 

TIP! I like to taste the wine before decanting it so I can enjoy the way it evolves over several hours. 

If you forget to decant early, here’s a way to catch up: If your table is all set, pour the wine into the glasses and the rest into a decanter. The few ounces of wine sitting in the glasses will open up nicely while you’re having hors d’oeuvres before dinner.  

There are very different reasons to decant an older red. As the wine ages, it drops sediment which isn’t harmful, but is kind of gritty. Stand the bottle up several hours before you plan to serve the wine so the sediment goes to the bottom. If it’s quite old, don’t decant it ahead of time. If it’s a bit tired the extra aeration may just push it over the hill. Decant it off of the sediment very carefully right at serving time. And be gentle! 

There’s another good reason to use a decanter – it’s a great conversation starter!  No one knows the wine’s identity! You many find your friends waxing eloquent over something you picked up for $9.99 or poo-pooing a “great” wine. 

You don’t have to buy an expensive decanter! It seems like the majority of them are pretty pricey, but the wine doesn’t know the difference. You can use a juice pitcher just as well as a decanter. I’ve found perfectly good, inexpensive decanters at World Market and Crate and Barrel. 

Some people like to use wine aerators. I’m not so sure, myself, but whatever works! 

When the producer took up valuable space on the label advising you to decant, they’ve probably got a good reason. I’d definitely taste it straight out of the bottle to see if it’s a tannic monster and decant the rest. I hope that helps! 

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