Knowing whether or not to decant wine does not have to be as complex as many think it is. Let’s start off with exactly what decanting is. Decanting a wine is transporting and pouring it from the bottle to another container of some sort, whether it is high-end glassware or even into an inexpensive container. It doesn’t have to be pricey to get the job done. Many folks think that aged wines need decanting, but wines in their youth may also need decanting. In reality you are not going to damage the wine by decanting it no matter what, but sometimes there are better times than others to decant a wine.
One of the primary purposes of decanting a wine is to prevent sediment found in some bottles from pouring into the wine glass. No one wants to take a sip out of their glass and have the sip be followed by sediment. Wine decanters help withhold that sediment and save our palettes the bitter astringency. The sediment should mostly remain within the wine bottle when pouring into the decanter and therefore by the time you enjoy it in the glass it is sediment free.
Another of the prime purposes for decanting a wine is to allow the wine to aerate. From the minute a wine is exposed to oxygen it begins to change and transform. Whether the wine is being poured directly into your glass or decanted into a vessel the process begins. This is also known as letting a wine breathe.
Now the question is which wines do you decant? Wines that are high in acid and/or tannins have the qualities that make it capable of aging. Depending upon how long you have been aging a wine it may or may not benefit from decanting it. Sometimes a wine with age can be fragile upon opening. Opening it up further for decanting may not be the best option. On the opposite side of the spectrum some wines in their youth are so tight and closed up that even though they can be aged, if one wants to enjoy them now decanting it is the best way to go. We all drink wine to savor the aromatics and taste and what use would it be to not gain the full experience.
Majority of the time the wines that you would decant are red wines. Big, full-bodied wines including Italian wines like brunello, amarone, barolo, barbaresco, aglianico, chianti classico and sagrantino as well as international varieties like cabernet sauvignon and syrah can all be decanted. White wines can also be decanted although I would save that for more fuller-bodied whites with depth such as orange wines. It would not make as much sense to aerate a light-bodied, delicate white wine.
How long should one decant a wine before enjoying it? It is usually recommended to decant a wine for a about 30 minutes before it is to be enjoyed. This timeframe is just a ballpark so whether it is 15 minutes or 45 minutes you are allowing the wine exposure to air to allow it to open up. The wine will continue to open up in the glass as well while you are enjoying it. The first sip of a wine just opened is very different than the last. Decanting helps make it a more consistent experience throughout.
In the end when in doubt try them both. If you are fortunate to have two of the same bottle try decanting one and not decanting the other. If that is not a luxury then just experiment over time and go with whatever you feel like. Wine tasting is all about learning and with wine there is always plenty to learn so enjoy the experience.