Wine decanting does not depend on the price of a bottle. A lot of people think that expensive wine, red wine or just about any wine must be decanted. This is absolutely false.
There are only two reasons to decant wine: 1) to separate the wine from the sediment that may be found in older vintages (8–10 years or older) or 2) to “wake up” a wine that is closed by exposing it to oxygen. It is not necessary to decant any other wine.
Decanting old wine
A fine old wine that has been cellared for a long period of time becomes smooth and rich. This is because the tannin in the wine has polymerised (combined) to form larger particles, turning into sediment. The aromas of old wine are delicate and fragile and dissipate easily if overexposed to oxygen.
The purpose of decanting is purely to separate the sediment. The wine should be gently decanted, with the minimum introduction of air. Slowly pour the wine into a decanter along the side, stopping once you see the sediment at the neck. To achieve the best result, allow the wine to stand upright for a few hours or even a whole day so that the sediment can settle at the bottom of the bottle for easier decanting.
Decanting young wine
A wine with ageing potential can be closed and tannic when young. It is probably not ready to drink yet and will continue to develop over time. This type of wine is best decanted vigorously (as opposed to gently decanting an older wine), along with the introduction of air. This hastens the development, just like ageing the wine in fast-forward mode. The tannin will be smoother and the wine will open up.
To decant or not?
It is really up to you to decide if a wine needs to be decanted. One thing that’s for sure, however, is that wine that is open (i.e., you can smell the lovely aromas) definitely should not be decanted as the aromas will disappear during the process. I don’t decant any wine, and I know some wine professionals who don’t decant.
For old and fine wine, decanting, even gently, destroys some of the aromas. Yes, the sediment may not be pleasing, but it is not harmful either. I just don’t drink the last bit of the wine. In this case, I can then enjoy all the delicate aromas that the wine has developed during all those years of ageing. Old wine is like a fragile, elderly person; we have to treat him with care.
For young wine, decanting may open the wine, but we will miss its development process. I prefer to pour a small glass at a time, smell it and, if it is closed, swirl it. Swirling introduces air that kills wine that is already open but helps to aerate closed wine. Drinking a bottle of wine like this over a few hours allows me to appreciate the full development of the wine. Young wine is like a child; we want to see him grow into an adult rather than him suddenly turning 18 years old the next day.
Lastly, a decanter with a large base allows more air to come into contact with the wine. This can be beneficial to a closed, tannic wine but would not be helpful for an older, more delicate wine. In reality, any clean and odourless container can be used as a decanter. In my opinion, a fancy decanter is more like a decorative item.
Don’t worry too much about decanting – just enjoy the wine!