While conducting a wine tasting last week, I had a guest ask about the importance of aerating or decanting wine. Is it an important step to take on your way to sipping a glass of wine or two? Yes, I am a firm believer in both aeration and decanting wine.
The purpose of aeration and decanting is to get oxygen or air into the wine (breathing), which releases flavors and aromas. When wine comes directly out of the bottle it has what I call a “tight” profile. The wine is closed down and in its dormant state having just been released. When wine is allowed to breath and is introduced to air, it will begin to blossom and show off its true colors.
The trick to aeration or decanting is in the timing. How much time does a wine need to breathe before you can drink it? For young wines meant to be consumed immediately, a lighter style wine such as a Pinot Noir, sometimes pouring directly into a glass and swirling it around for a short while will be enough for the wine to begin opening up. For bigger bolder wines with a much dryer flavor and structure such as Cabernet Sauvignon, pouring into a decanter for a couple of hours before you drink it will help soften the tannins and expand the aromas.
For mature wines that have been cellared for a period of time (perhaps up to 10 years) an hour would be at least the starting point. Trying little sips and sniffing for aroma changes as the wine breaths will give you a good idea as to when the wine will be ready. Wines older than 10 to 15 years may have become very volatile and can begin to breakdown rather quickly once released from the bottle, so I have a tendency to pour these directly into my glass and pay close attention to the flavor and aroma while gently swirling the wine.
And while most of us might think to aerate or decant red wines, white wines will definitely show the benefits of breathing as well. It can really improve the “expression” of white wine revealing the fruity aromas that may exist layer upon layer in the wine. Chardonnay is a great example of a white that can benefit from this process. When you first open a bottle of Chardonnay you may get toasty, oaky aromas as it is poured into the glass, but decanted you may begin to detect beautiful stone fruit or tropical notes that were buried under the initial aromas of oak.
I have used the terms aeration and decanting almost interchangeably throughout this article, but they are really two different processes. Aerators are used to quickly get air to the wine. Most of them are hand held and you pour the wine from the bottle through the aerator which is positioned over your wine glass or a decanter. The wine gurgles through the aerator causing air to get through the wine quickly and with some force. Other aerators will fit into the neck of the wine bottle and accomplish the same task without tying up both of your hands.
A decanter is a vessel with a wide mouth that you decant or pour the wine into. While there are many wonderful decanters available, a glass water pitcher will work fine if you don’t have a decanter. A decanter is used when you have the time to let the wine sit for a period of time. It also serves a secondary purpose and that is to allow sediment to be separated from the wine so you don’t end of with it in your glass.
Many wines are unfiltered and occasionally you will get a bottle of wine with sediment in the bottom of the bottle. It is rather unpleasant to have it end up in the bottom of your glass so I have a wine funnel with a filtering screen in it which I place in the top of my decanter to catch sediment while I pour the wine from the bottle to the decanter.
Whichever method you decide to use, please give at least one of them a try. I think you will be very pleased with the results!