To decant or not to decant...

That is the question

I just got off the phone with a friend. There was a marked urgency in his voice.

"When should you decant wine?," he asked.

Then added in a rush, "I've just finished a meal at a swanky steakhouse. Ordered a 12 year old red. The sommelier didn't decant. Shouldn't he have decanted?!"

"Maybe. A wine should be decanted if it's old or if it's young," I said.

"Decant everything? Really? Wow." he responded. 
not all old wine requires decanting

"No," I said. "Only decant when needed."


Here's what I went on to explain...

Decanting does two things: it removes sediment and helps the wine 'breath'. But here's the tricky bit, wines that need to have sediment removed generally don't need to breath. And vice versa.  

Why decant old wines
Wines feed off of oxygen. The small amount in the bottle helps a wine maturate as it ages. For this reason, older wines don't require decanting in order to help them breathe. In fact, they should have done all their "breathing" in the bottle. As such, old wines need to be drunk soon after opening as exposure to air actually is detrimental to their delicate nature and matured flavors. The reason to decant old wines, then, is to remove sediment.

As some wines age, they shed deposits known as sediment: tannin and a protein complex in old red wines and crystalline deposits in whites. If you have an older wine, place it in an upright position for an hour or so prior to drinking. Then, remove a bit of the foil capsule. You'll be able to see if there is any sediment in the neck of the bottle. If there is, you'll know to decant.

Many old wines don't have sediment. It's also worth pointing out that sediment isn't bad per se. The reason for getting rid of it has more to do with the aesthetics of what you are drinking.    

Why decant young wines
Young wines should not have sediment issues, but they will benefit from being aerated. Decanting a young wine creates a forced and accelerate maturation of sorts by giving the wine more expansive exposure to oxygen. You may have experienced this unintentionally. Ever notice how a wine will 'open up' as it sits in your glass?

Both young reds and whites can benefit from being decanted.

Decanting can make a difference but it isn't necessary for every bottle of wine. The sommelier where my friend was dining knew just what to do.


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