To Decant or Not Decant…

It seems that more and more these days we see more and more contraptions used, sold, marketed, etc. that are all about aerating wine.  They are sold to make your wine taste better, but do they really?  The interesting thing is that the best sommeliers in the world don’t even agree with the practice.  I have heard so many different opinions and what I have come to realize is this.

Your own personal opinion is what matters the most.  I will be the first to admit.  I have three different aerators…one inserts into the bottles, one your pour the wine through into the glass and one a combination aerator and decanter.

Let’s start simple…the decanter.  The decanter serves two purposes, but I’ll argue there’s a third.

1. Aged wine will often have sediment that settles over time.  This can be leftover yeast, particles of grapes, and a few other things.  I think it’s safe to say that no one enjoys sitting down to a nice glass of wine only to get a mouthful of dregs.

What’re dregs? It’s the word used to describe wine mixed with the sediment.  It is not all that pleasant on the tongue and they can ruin a glass.  Since aged wine will often have this, a decanter is used to help separate the dregs from the delicious juice.  You simply let the bottle stand upright for an hour and then you pour slowly until you start to see the sediment try to make its way out…which is usually the last few sips of a bottle.  That’s when you stop and discard the rest.  For this purpose, a decanter is perfect.

2. Pouring a wine into a decanter aerates the wine.  Through pouring the wine into a decanter, the wine is exposed to the air and shocker…aerates.  It also aerates more due to the increased surface area exposed to the wine.

3. Here’s my third reason to decant.  It looks cool and it is a great way to present a nice wine.

So, there you have it. #1 and #3, in my opinion, speak for themselves and there are not too many opinions to discredit the thought.

What about aeration you ask?  This is where the debate begins!

Some people believe that aerating a wine opens it open and helps present the flavors.  Some people believe that it takes away certain characteristics.  Others think it helps to take a so-so wine and make it better.  Then there are those that believe it takes a young wine and helps make it taste older.

So what’s the truth?  Only you can say and it’s your opinion that matters most.  I grew up with a father that aerates wines and believes completely in the practice.  He’s presented me the same wine aerated versus straight out of the bottle and I will say that the ones I have tasted tend to be more appealing to me when aerated.  I will say that this has typically been bottles in the $10-$15 price range and those are often wines that are nothing special.  For me, I feel that most tend to be less acidic and tart and become a more balanced wine.

Many will argue that the bigger/bolder wines do well when aerated. That could be the case, especially with the high tannins that come with them.  The aeration helps balance things out a little, but what works for one person might ruin it for another.  I’ve seen people write about letting a bottle air for an hour in a decanter before drinking.  It won’t hurt the wine at all and some might like it better. Some might feel the acidity and tartness fade too much.

See the theme here?  To every point, there seems to be a counter-point.  So, here’s what I tend to do.

1. If it’s an aged wine, I decant to simply get rid of the dregs and to make each pour a good pour.

2. If it’s a nothing-special wine, I like to aerate as I feel it takes a so-so wine and makes it a more balanced one…less bitter/tart.

3. If it’s a big wine, I like to let it sit in a bottle and “open up” meaning it lets the air bring out the flavors.  Some will argue that by doing so, you miss the opportunity to taste the wine through its changes in profile, from straight out of the bottle to sitting in your glass for a while.

4. If it’s a young wine, often referred to as green, I like to decant for a little while because I do agree with the opinion that a young wine can shed some of that green-ness by being exposed to the air for a bit.

5. If it’s a wine I flat out like out of the bottle, I’ll drink it poured out of the bottle.  Simply put, drink what you like.  Don’t let a person’s opinion dictate to you how you enjoy a bottle.

Oh and one last thing…White and Rose’ styles… don’t waste your time. I’ve never seen a benefit to decant these unless you are simply going for presentation.