Why Decanting Wine Makes A Difference

Why Decanting Wine Makes A Difference

A red-wine bottle should be opened anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours before you take your first sip (white wines are usually not decanted). The reason for this is grounded in simple science. You are maximizing the wine’s exposure to the air in the room, allowing it to breathe and warm up, and its flavors to blossom and mellow.  

If you don’t decant your wine, most wines will still improve noticeably if you uncork them twenty minutes before your guests arrive. If the wine is of a recent vintage, it will open up far more quickly than an older wine (the one time in life youth isn’t all that beneficial!), because younger wines have already been aged in the barrel and are ready to be drunk.

Lighter-bodied wines, such as pinot noir, which have lower tannin levels, need little if any time to breathe. But with older wines, which have more than their fair share of tannin, decanting is an absolute necessity.

You can use any glass pourer for a decanter, so long as it has a wide enough opening on the top (anywhere from two to four inches) for the wine to breathe properly. If you don’t own an actual decanter, you can use a glass pitcher, or even a glass flower vase if you can pour safely from it. Or pour your wine into glasses you’ve set out on a tray about twenty minutes before you serve it, and let nature take its course. The wine will open wonderfully. 

When seasoned wine drinkers open a bottle of wine, they invariably sniff the cork.  They’re simply gathering more information about the wine. Has the wine been in contact with the cork? Good. Does the cork have a moldy or vinegary smell? Not good, as this means that the wine has oxidized and turned sour. Sometimes you’ll find crystals resembling salt adhering to the cork, which are simply tartaric acid, a naturally occurring, harmless substance from the grapes.  

If a wine has gone bad, it will have a noticeably sharp and unpleasant odor, like ammonia. In the case of white wines, you will often know if a wine has turned just by a simple glance (an oxidized white wine has turned an unsightly brown color.) 

Before drinking, do as the experts do: First sniff the wine. Now swirl a small amount of wine in your glass and sniff again to note if the bouquet has changed at all. Take a small sip before drinking. This releases more of the wine’s fragrances, and also allows you to visually examine the wine. Is it at all cloudy or discolored? It shouldn’t be, unless you are drinking unfilitered wine.  

-Melissa Hammam

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