To Decant or Not to Decant…

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My dear buddy got me a decanter last year for my birthday. It is so pretty. And it sat there awhile. About a year, in fact. It sat there all alone with no Jesus juice in it because I had always heard that decanting is a waste of time, and that you get plenty of aeration just from pouring the wine into a glass. That you only needed a decanter for older wines. I have also heard you should only decant younger wines. Obviously I am confused on the subject. It doesn’t help that my sister is against decanting, but my guy likes to decant. Who is right? They’re both pretty brainy and I trust both of their opinions, but I wanted to find out for myself.

It turns out they are both right, and both wrong. Decanting seems to be subjective. Many wine aficionados swear by decanting all wines. Joseph Nase, Wine Director of Moody’s and Baxter’s in Lake Tahoe, writing for NY Magazine, says “Wine geeks love to sit around for hours and debate the pros and cons of this procedure, but I’m confident — based on my experience of opening, decanting and tasting hundreds of thousands of bottles of wine — that careful decanting can improve most any wine.”

Some say you should never ever decant a wine no matter it’s age because you get plenty of aeration from simply pouring the wine into a glass. Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, husband and wife wine critics for the Wall Street Journal, say that you should never decant older wines because their already waning fruity flavors are lost the moment you start to pour. They say, “If you decant, you will miss that flash of bright fruit and never even know that you missed it. Conversely, it’s also true that after wines have been trapped inside a bottle for decades, they might need some time to stretch and show their remaining stuff. But think about it: These are wines that you are going to sip and savor and talk about. They will get plenty of air when they are poured and then get plenty more as they sit in your glass while you discuss the memories surrounding the wine. If they need any time to breathe, that will be plenty.” Yet others insist that decanting older wines allows a separation from the astringent bitter tastes that you might get when pouring an older wine into a glass.

Some sommeliers insist you only decant younger wines to open up their flavors. They purport that the addition of oxygen to a young wine in a decanter opens up a young wine more quickly in order to develop and expose their flavors at a faster pace than a regular glass pour. Some even say you should decant some white wines. Mary Gorman-McAdams MW (Master of Wine) and 2012 Dame Chevalier de L’Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne recipient, says “(T)here are quite a few white wines that can really benefit from it, particularly higher-end wines that can age, as these can sometimes taste a bit awkward or gangly when first poured from the bottle.”

For those who may not know much about decanting I will give a short course. Decanting serves two purposes: in older wines decanting is used to separate the sediment found at the bottom of the bottle from the wine, and it is also used to introduce oxygen to the wine because it opens up the wine and allows the flavors of the wine to surface at a quicker pace. There are many techniques involved and they get more complicated the older the wine. You must take great care with older wines and use the physics of the neck of the bottle and pour very carefully and slowly, usually using a wine cradle and sometimes even a candle to check to see if there is any sediment while you pour. The younger wines you simply pour in a decanter, wait 20 minutes and enjoy. I won’t go into full detail about the different techniques of how to decant, only because I want to know if we should even bother decanting at all.

Should we? I think the short answer is that it is up to you. However, I did decant my Malbec last night with our Argentinian chimichurri steak fest, and I must say, I think I am becoming a fan of decanting. If anything, wine looks really pretty in a decanter. And I think it tasted great. But I will admit, I am no expert.

References:

Gaiter, D, Brecher, J. Should I decant?” The Wall Street Journal. Oct 2009. 16 Aug 2013.

Gorman-McAdams, M. “Decanting wine: when and why to decant wine.” thekitchn.com. 2011. 16 Aug 2013.

Nase, J. “Proper transference makes wine taste better. So pour it out!” New York Magazine. 16 Aug 2013.

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