The benefits of decanting wine among the wine community is controversial. All agree that decanting wine will remove sediment from older wines which accumulates during bottle aging. Though there is no harm in drinking sediment, it has a bitter taste and sludge in the bottom of the bottle might be inadvertently poured into a glass. The ritual of decanting at fine restaurants can be an elegant affair as wine is poured over a lighted candle.
Decanting for the purpose of enhancing the taste and aroma of wine is disputed but I decant EVERY bottle of wine. Decanting allows wine to “breathe” which technically is a chemical reaction of air with the compounds in wine. The reaction releases aromas trapped in the bottle during the aging process and the flavor profile becomes softer, rounder and more balanced. But you be the judge with the following experiment. Fill two glasses from a new bottle of young red wine pouring one glass through an aerator, a swirling device that acts as a decanter. Now compare the two glasses – is the aroma and flavor different in the two glasses?
WHAT WINES ARE BEST TO DECANT?
I use the following guidelines to decant wines:
Older Wines (8+ years old) to remove sediment should have a short decant (5-15 minutes) without a lot of time for breathing. Older wines can lose their freshness quickly unless they are tannic and require more time to breathe.
Young Wines (less than 5 years old) will benefit more from decanting, both red and white. Young red wines will become softer with as little as 15 to 30 minutes, preferably 1 to 2 hours.
Red Wines, especially bold reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Brunello, Chianti, Bordeaux, Syrah (shiraz) will improve with longer decanting such as 2 to 4 hours. It is not uncommon for these big reds to improve a day later after tannins have smoothed.
Pinot Noirs will improve with a quick decant (5 – 15 minutes) to allow the wine to open but longer decanting will lose the aromas. Pinots will change complexion in the glass and will develop more aromas and softness as it is exposed to air.
White Wines (especially screw caps) will improve with a short decant to release aromas trapped by airtight caps.
DECANTING IN RESTAURANT?
Most wine purchased in restaurants will be young and will benefit from decanting. Don’t be afraid to ask your server if he will decant your wine especially if the bottle purchase is north of $50.
We are fortunate in New Jersey to be one of the few states with a liberal BYOB (bring your own bottle) policy in restaurants and I frequent BYO’s regularly. Whenever possible, I uncork the bottle(s) in my home and double decant the wines that I will bring to the restaurant. Double decanting is simple and requires little time. The wine is poured from the original bottle into a decanter. The bottle is washed with clean water to remove sediment before the wine is poured back into the bottle and the cork is replaced back into the bottle. BTW, a funnel or steady hand is necessary when double decanting.
DID YOU KNOW that some restaurants with wine lists charge a corkage fee to open your wine? Corkage fees will range from $10 – $40 per bottle ($20 or less is reasonable) but call ahead because not all restaurants have a corkage policy.
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