In recent years there has been a lot of controversy about decanting. Do you decant everything or just older wines? Recently, seven wine experts weighed in on the subject and offered the current consensus, which is still very polarized.
Due to the nature of many of the new wines coming on the market in the last decade, decanting has fallen out of fashion. Amy Reiley, author and renown wine expert, explains, “I personally don’t do very much of it simply because I don’t drink a lot of wines for which its necessary. A lot of New World wine, not just American, but Australian and Chilean are being made in a style that is meant to be drunk right away. Vintners and wineries know that at least in the US, people are buying wines and drinking them immediately. So, they are making wines that are suitable for that.”
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David Mirassou of Mirassou Winery agrees. “Most wines that are consumed today don’t need to be decanted,” he says. “Eighty percent of wines that are consumed today are enjoyed within 24 hours of purchase. When someone goes to a local retailer, they pick wines up and bring them home and they start enjoying them right away, especially in our price range.”
Brigitte Baker, founder of WineStyles, also notes that decanting may not be a good thing. “I think it’s actually a disservice to some wines to decant them,” she says. “It’s not so necessary unless it’s a really, really big, bold full-bodied wine that really needs a chance to breathe. But if it’s a fruit-forward wine, for example, or a mellow wine or most white wines (and there are some exceptions to that rule), for the most part they don’t benefit from being decanted.”
Wines to Decant
Marian Jansen op de Haar, wine director for Fleming’s Steakhouse & Wine Bar, offers two reasons to decant. “One of them is to give wine air, letting it breathe. It does bind with oxygen. And the other one, of course, with all the wines is to get rid of the sediment. What you do is pour it off the sediment and try to keep a clear wine for yourself. First of all, that sediment is not tasty, but also it doesn’t look good....Tannins get larger and larger and larger and actually drop out and then they take little impurities with them. That’s what that sediment is. You really don’t want to drink it. You want to pour it off. You want to do that with an old wine not too far ahead of time because old wines are fragile. You don’t want them to fall apart by having them sit for hours and hours. That’s sort of the opposite of the other wines that are really young and tannic and obviously don’t have any sediment. And you want to give it some air to soften it up a little bit.
There are, however, some wines that do benefit from the decanting process. “Yes, absolutely, there are wines out there that need to be decanted. They are some older wines that you will want to decant,” says Reiley. “I’m always afraid of doing it, though, because they are fragile.” Though she is concerned about over-oxidizing a wine, she does admit that decanting can help. “But there are some wines where you are sort of trying to hurry along the aging process and you might decant those. That will certainly help. There are some of these extraordinarily burly, California Cabernets, that I like to let sit in my glass for a bit before I want to drink them, a half hour to an hour or something. That’s lazy man’s decanting.” She also realizes that letting a wine, especially a fragile wine sit too long will destabilize the wine and it will go flat.
Mirassou and Baker agree that older wines are usually the ones that benefit most from decanting. “If you’re buying an antique wine, you might want to decant it,” says Mirassou. “If it’s a really expensive Cabernet, the motion of decanting the wine will aerate it a little bit. That’ll help make it a little more approachable when you’re drinking it.”
Baker points out, “If you’ve been storing something for a long time or it’s really big and full-bodied, then those are wines I would decant.” She also notes that some Old World wines or older wines may be unfiltered. “If you get a wine that is unfiltered, it can sometimes also benefit from decanting just because of all that sediment,” she says.
Peter Gaudreau, Director of Operations of Tavistock Restaurants, which own the Nappa Valley Grille in Rhode Island and the California Café chain, sees decanting as a plus with cellared wines. “It will enhance an older vintage or one of these bigger wines,” he says. “You don’t want to do that to a young wine because too much air will affect it adversely. But for a really rich and big wine, the more air the better. It will enhance its flavor.” He also notes, “You can do it with whites, but it’s older Cabernets and heritage blends. We do it at the restaurant.”
Then, there is Christopher Myers, co-owner of Via Matta, Radius, and Great Bay restaurants, who sees decanting as a really great asset to any wine. “Unless a wine is extremely delicate, and by delicate, I typically mean older and delicate like an older Pinot Noir, a really old Chenin Blanc, or a Bordeaux, I think that everything benefits by being decanting,” he says. “Some places do decant everything and some don’t. Some people really just like that bottle on the table. It’s just sort of part of the sexiness of going out to eat. But just about all wines do better when they are decanted. It accelerates the process of opening up the bouquet.” He does emphasize that sometimes you have to be careful. “If it’s an older Pinot or an older Bordeaux that’s really on the delicate phase, you could get it out of the bottle and it tastes great and then maybe in two hours, it’s just dead or really starts to fade fast. If you decant something like that, it’ll fade in ten minutes. You have to be careful.”
Myers also suggests removing a bottle from your cellar earlier than the moment you’d like to drink it. “If it’s an older wine that’s going to have a lot of sediment and it’s been rested on its side and that’s how you store it in whatever wine storage you have, then somebody wants to decant it, it’s a bad idea to decant it because you haven’t stood it up. You have to stand the bottle up for 24 hrs so all the sediment goes to the bottom....If it’s a wine that has a lot of sediment and it’s been resting, then there’s a very good chance that you’re going to get a lot of that sediment into the decanter if you don’t stand the bottle up for at least a few hours.”
Gary Vaynerchuk, co-owner of the Wine Library, also agrees that the wines he deals with, usually more higher-end vintages, can benefit from decanting. “Red wines are not to be drunk the second they come to market,” he says of these wines. “They really perform much better three to five to seven years later, depending on how good the wine is. Any wine that you’re going to pay $25 and higher in today’s market, definitely will be better in a three years. It’s just almost guaranteed. Ultimately, that’s why I’m such a big fan of decanting. That can kind of speed up the process.”
For the appropriate wine and done in the proper manner, decanting can be a useful tool for wine enjoyment.