Wine: Decanting versus Aerating?

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While catching up on some recent reading, I came across an article looking at wine decanting versus aerating. The bottom line presented in the article was that older wines should be decanted and young wines should be aerated. This caused me to pause.

Both of these methods allow a wine to have further exposure to oxygen that typically helps a wine to release any undesirable odors and, more importantly, to help soften the tannins in a red wine.

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But, what caused my pause is that older red wines typically have softer tannins just from the aging process. And, an older wine is usually a bit more delicate and can quickly loose its character, or go flabby, if decanted.

Young red wines often have bigger, bolder tannin and benefit the most from decanting. Sometimes for hours.

So, my advice would be a bit different than the article. If you are dealing with a young red wine whose tannins are too bold, I’d recommend pouring it into a decanter. Then, re-sample periodically. Usually after an hour or two, the decanting process has calmed the tannins and you’ll find a noticeable positive difference.

If you are dealing with an older bottle of red wine, I’d recommend trying it immediately out of the bottle. If you detect something odd or the tannins are still too bold, then pour it into a decanter (being especially careful to avoid pouring any sediment into the decanter) and give it 10 to 15 minutes. Then, re-try the wine.

As for an aerator, they are fun pouring accessories, and the do add a bit of oxygen to the wine during the pouring process. But, for really giving a wine some breathing space, give it some time in a broad-based decanter. Cheers!


Tips on Letting a Wine Breathe

Years ago, I was visiting a friend who knew I enjoyed wines and wanted to share a bottle with me.  They opened the bottle and took a sip.  With a look of disappointment on their face, they proclaimed that the wine need some time “to breathe.” So, with the cork extracted, the bottle sat for an hour. At the end of the hour, the wine was proclaimed to be ready.

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I've also encountered those who use a decanter to allow their wine to breathe.  But, all too often, the decanter ends up looking like the one pictured here. It's a beautiful carafe and it's a great addition to a bar or table for serving wine. Unfortunately, it's a bit too narrow. It doesn't give the wine enough room to truly breathe. But, compared to leaving the wine cooped-up in its bottle, this type of decanter is a definite improvement. Not only does it give the wine a bit more space, it also allows the wine to catch a bit of a breath as it's being poured from the bottle to the decanter. And, after an hour or two, the wine should begin to show signs of opening up and settling down a bit.

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But to really give a bottle of wine a chance to breathe, you'll need some type of decanter that allows the wine to spread out and have a lot of surface area in contact with air.  The wide-base decanter pictured here is a great example. And, it's designed such that a single bottle of wine just fills the bottom and allows for the maximum amount of the wine's surface area to be exposed to air.

This whole discussion may leave you asking "Why do you want to intentionally expose wine to air? Doesn't that make the wine go bad?"  And, those are great questions. For answers, see my past blogs on "Why Decant Wine?" and "When to Not Decant a Wine."

Here's to enjoying whatever you drink! Cheers!

 

 

When to Not Decant a Wine

As discussed last time, decanting a wine can make a real difference. Decanting allows for some quick evaporation and exposes the wine to oxygen. Both improve the flavor of the wine, usually in just a few minutes or up to a couple of hours.

But I recently opened a bottle of red wine, poured a small taste in a big wine glass, gave it a few swirls and tasted it. I then went ahead and began serving it right out of the bottle.  The questing came up "Why aren't you decanting that wine?"  

Well, upon my first taste of the wine, I immediately knew the wine didn't need to go into a decanter.  It was velvety smooth, had soft fruit flavors and a wonderful finish. There were no strong odors, no sharp flavors and no bitterness right out of the bottle. It was as good or better than many wines are after spending time in a decanter.  

Going back a couple of weeks, the topic here was swirling wine in a glass. Some wines can immediately be 'decanted' by just pouring them into a glass and giving it a few swirls.  In the case of my recently opened bottle, all it needed was that minute in the glass.

I experienced another example of not decanting during a recent visit to a tasting room. While enjoying tasting some great red wines, the server suggested that I might like to try another of their wines that was not on the standard tasting list. She searched around, found the bottle, opened it and pour a small amount in a couple of glasses, tasting one herself. She then set the two glasses aside and had me continue trying a couple more of their 'standard' wines. In the meantime, she gave the other glasses of 'special' wine a few more big swirls and retried her glass. With a nod of her head, she pronounced that it was ready.  Upon serving it to me, she explained that right out of the bottle, it had a bit of sharpness that she claimed went away with just a couple of minutes in the glass.

Another reason for not decanting is when you are dealing with older bottles of wines.  Wines that are 15 or more years old probably don't need decanting.  These wines, if they were properly stored, will have already mellowed during the time spent in the bottle. Exposure to too much air can actually make an older, delicate wine go 'flat' or 'flabby,' loosing its delicate flavors.

So, would my recent bottle of wine gotten better had I decanted it for thirty minutes to an hour?  Hmm?  I guess I'll never know.  But, I do know that it was amazing right from the bottle.  The bottom line is that you shouldn't just automatically send all wines to the decanter.  Pour yourself a quick taste from the bottle and then decide if it's already great, or if it could use a bit of time mellowing in a decanter.  Cheers!

Why Decant Wine?

Seeing a wine steward decanting a bottle of wine in a restaurant can look 'showy' or a bit pretentious.  And a wine decanter can be a beautiful thing to display, with or without wine in it. So why decant a wine?

The simple answer is that decanting a wine allows it to 'breath' much like the previous discussion on swirling a wine glass.  By pouring a bottle of wine into a decanter (or any glass vessel), the wine gets an opportunity to quickly release any volatile compounds that have built up in the bottle and  get exposed to air. And this really can make a difference in wine.

If you haven't tried decanting its well worth it.  Immediately after opening a bottle of wine (particularly a red wine), pour yourself a small taste in a glass so that you experience the wine right out of the bottle.  And most good wines will be fine right out of the bottle. But then give the wine in the decanter thirty minutes to an hour before going back and trying it again.  Most often, you will find that the wine has smoothed out and is a bit softer, not quite so sharp as that initial taste from the bottle. And, you are more likely to detect some of the subtile flavors in the wine.

Decanting is particularly effective with young red wines. Exposure to air in a decanter for one to two hours can make a significant improvement. But, with an older bottle, decanting my not be necessary at all, and it can even degrade some of the delicate nuances of a fine wine. 

Decanting was especially effective after recently opening a rather young bottle of red wine.  After the first taste right out of the bottle, I immediately said 'no' this isn't a very good bottle of wine.  So, I poured it in a decanter and left it for a couple of hours.  Upon returning to the almost forgotten decanter, I poured another small glass and noticed a significant improvement. Gone was the sharp bitter and highly tannic (dry) taste.  The wine had calmed down, smoothed out and was then quite enjoyable with a meal.

Another item to consider along with a wine decanter is a small wire-mesh filter designed specifically to be used for wine. These can be very effective in removing any sediment that might have remained with the wine in the bottle. Just pour the bottle of wine through the filter as you decant it.

One of my favorite lines about wine also applies to decanting.  It's said that a wine cellar is not a wine hospital; it won't make a bad wine better.  So too, decanting will not magically turn a bad bottle of wine into a good one.  But, you may be surprized how decanting can make a nice wine even better.

So, if you don't have a fancy wine decanter, don't worry. Any wide glass vessel that will give the wine exposure to air will work. Just don't choose a plastic or metal vessel that can impart other flavors into the wine.  And, don't decant too long.  A wine can go flat and loose much of its flavors if left exposed to air for too long.  Just try a sip right out of the bottle to establish a starting point, then decant and periodically re-visit it.  You should notice an improvement. Cheers!