Decanting and the Perfect Decanter

The practice of opening a bottle of wine an hour before enjoying it to let it breathe amuses many wine experts. “How much air can get into the bottle?” asks Amy Reiley, author and wine expert. “Really you just give your arm a rest after before you drink it.” Letting a wine breathe in its own bottle won’t help improve the wine’s palatability. What the wine may need is more oxygen in order to age a big, young red.

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“To have contact with O2, more surface area has to be in contact with the wine. A decanter has the widest possible surface area. It is less vertical and spreads out horizontally. The O2 permeates the outer skin of the wine as thin as an inch, aiding it along, opening up the wine,” says Tyler Wesslund, wine director of Canoe in Atlanta.

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Marian Jansen op de Haar, wine director for Fleming’s Steakhouse & Wine Bar, says, “Just opening the wine up and taking the cork out doesn’t do much. The surface is like that of a quarter, not even. It doesn’t do anything. But you really do want to pour it into a glass or a decanter and then a glass if you want to give it even more oxygen.” She also suggests swirling. “The more you swirl it around, the more oxygen it gets. It’s just a matter of giving it surface, right? That’s why when we decant it. I tell our servers to pour it against the side of the decanter because you might as well maximize it once you are doing the decanting. We decant most every young red wine.”

But for how long? “Wines vary in the times in which they open. I decant everything except Pinot Grigio, both white and red. It gets quicker to its qualitative zenith,” says Wesslund. Gary Vaynerchuk, co-owner of the Wine Library, adds, “Obviously, it always depends on the tannins. I always think of it like a child. How long do your sit her down before you let her go play. The more wilder, the more tannic it is, the more you want to let it breathe. All wines benefit from an hour. Some wines need even more.”

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