Why Decant Wine?
Traditionally, decanting wine is the process of slowly pouring the contents of a bottle of wine into another container leaving any sediment behind. This is only necessary for wines with sediment like an aged bottle of red wine or Port (sediment is rare in a bottle of wine that is designed to be ready-to-drink). However, decanting a bottle of young wine is a more effective way of aerating wine than simply pulling the cork and letting it breathe (in the bottle, the surface area of wine exposed to air is minimal).
Why Aerate Wine?
Most wine enthusiasts believe it’s helpful to aerate (expose to air) young wines, especially young, concentrated red wines, like expensive Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux that can age for several years. The same goes for young and concentrated or especially astringent white wine, such as white Burgundy.
Aeration artificially speeds up the maturation process, causing subtle chemical changes that affect both the flavors and the texture of wine. It should only be used if you suspect the wine is not yet at its peak of drinkability, never on a very old bottle (15+ years). Remember, most wines are ready-to-drink.
How to Decant Wine so it’s Simultaneously Aerated
Effective aeration can be accomplished by pouring wine through a wine funnel into a decanter. A good decanter has a wide mouth and broad base to maximize the wine’s exposure to air.
The wine funnel typically has a mesh screen filter to remove any sediment, and holes in the tip to direct wine towards the sides of the vessel, gently aerating it as it’s poured.
Amount of Time to Aerate Wine
If the wine still needs more aeration after decanting (i.e. it still tastes a bit harsh), let it breathe in the open decanter. The younger and more tannic the wine, the more time it needs to breathe. As a general rule, most tannic, young, red wines soften with one hour of aeration. An exception to the one-hour rule would be many young Barolos or Barbarescos that are very tannic and can benefit from three or four hours of aeration.
Young vintage Port is extremely tannic and demands many hours of aeration. Eight hours is a good target, some people even decant it the day before. White wines only need short-term aeration, maybe half an hour to achieve optimum aroma and flavor. Remember, you may have to put the decanter in the refrigerator to maintain proper serving temperatures.
Other Ways to Aerate Wine
The decanter is an effective wine tool, but some experts prefer to let wine breathe in the glass. Certain wine glasses are designed to enhance the aeration, highlight the fruit and mellow the acidity in young, full-bodied, tannic reds, but that’s not all. In general they are the most important wine accessories for improving your in-home wine experience. For a full discussion on wine glasses and their effects on the perception of wine, see the following link:
Crystal Wine Glasses for the Connoisseur
These days, the Vinturi Wine Aerator is quickly supplanting the old decanter and wine funnel routine. Not only does it take less time to “open up” your wines, now you can decant wine as needed or by the glass. Vinturi makes aerators for both red and white wines.