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Decanting: yes?no?.when? why?

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From my personal perspective, I am growing increasing suspicious as to the real advantages which decanting can bring to a wine's enjoyment.

I am curious to hear the board's prespective.

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  1. It depends on the wine. Ont he other hand, the main advantage to decanting is that you remember to do it early enough. If I have one of those big Shirazs that my siblings love so much, I have to remember to decant it several hours in advance, just opening an pouring does not do it justice. The same for some of the CA Pinot Noirs. On the other hand, I see no reason to decant most whites, nor many of the CA cabs (unless they are very young.) You should take the time to experiment. Open a bottle of wine and take a glass, then decant it and have a glass an hour later. You will probably see a marked difference. I know I sure do.

    1. Two reasons to decant:

      1) An older wine should be decanted off the sediment so as to retain the wine's clarity and keep the sediment from being stirred (back) up into the wine.

      2) A very young red (and some whites) will benefit from exposure to air.

      dinwiddie is quite right: experiment. Open a young, hard, tannic red. Pour a small glasss and taste it, decanting the rest. Come back to it in one hour. Taste it again. Come back in another hour; taste it again. Repeat . . . you should see the wine evolve.

      Specific times -- how early does a wine need to be decanted prior to service varies with the age/type of the wine. I know some people who decant, for instance, an older Vintage Porto 8-12 hours prior to service . . . .


      8 Replies
      1. re: zin1953

        You really need to know an older wine to judge whether it needs aeration.

        1. re: zin1953

          Jason, you omitted my Third Reason to Decant: you are so ashamed of the label, that you want to serve the wine from a carafe.

          Thanks for mentioning, in #2, the benefits for some, when whites are caraffed, as well.

          To the OP, other than separating any sediment, it's a case of YMMV (your mileage may vary). If you do not appreciate the aeration of the wine, then do not do it. It's similar to those, who like their reds young, and those who prefer the same reds with some cellar time on them. Neither is wrong, just different.


          1. re: Bill Hunt

            "my Third Reason to Decant: you are so ashamed of the label, that you want to serve the wine from a carafe."

            Variation on a theme: Voltaire is said to have decanted wine when he had guests for dinner. The guests' carafe was filled with Beaujolais, his with Corton.

            1. re: carswell

              Voltaire was wise in many ways.


              1. re: carswell

                sounds like richad nixon who is said to have had all of the bottles wrapped in white napkins with ch margaux going to him and the cheap swill going to the guests

                1. re: jock

                  I believe the Margaux was wrapped in a towel and that he did it only when on the presidential yacht. But, yeah. The one time I'd say Voltaire and Nixon were strictly comparable. ;)

                  1. re: carswell

                    Initially it sounds like a dispicable thing for host to do...until you've seen somebody adulterate their glass w/ a Sprite...

            2. Decanting reds off the sediment is the main reason. Old reds traditionally need it. Most of the big reds being made today need it even if they are only a year or two old. The amount of sediment in today's big unfiltered reds can be suprising even shortly after release. It is a real bummer to get down to the end of a great red and have the last glass or two full of mud.

              With young reds and whites where you are sure sediment is not a problem some benefit and others do not. Many young whites especially from Burgundy and the Rhone really do benefit.

              1. I wonder how many of the above responses are 'personal knowledge' rather than repeating 'accepted wisdom'.
                First, I endorse decanting if there is a sediment. Sediment impairs the enjoyment. so that's a good reason.
                As for 'everything else' a group of us undertook an experiment. We took 3 wines - one was opened 6 hours ahead and not decanted. The second was opened and decanted 2 hours earlier and replaced in the bottle. The third was opened just before serving.
                This process was followed with 3 different wines (a Barolo, A California Cab - and I forget the third, although I recall it was French).
                Thus we had 3 sets of 3 glasses - and these were presented "blind" and people asked to vote on which glass they preferred.
                IN ALL THREE WINES, the preferred glass was the one just opened and poured. decanting, breathing etc did not improve the perceived taste and in some cases was clearly harmful.
                OK - that's a small sample but with 40 people participating, it was significant enough that I never allow a sommelier in a restaurant to decant any wine served to me, and I have not noticed any significant improvement over the course of a meal.
                However, I think I have detected improvement the next day (in some wines) - although I've never repeated the experiment with that long a time difference.

                5 Replies
                1. re: estufarian

                  It's personal experience. What has not yet been addressed is the Audouze Method. http://dat.erobertparker.com/bboard/s...

                  1. re: zin1953

                    Umm....is there any difference between what we did (open 6 hours ahead and leave in bottle) and the Audouze method?
                    It didn't do anything to enhance the wine in our objective test.

                  2. re: estufarian

                    I don't decant often and when I do it's usually to deal with sediment. That said, there are the occasional wines for which it's not only advisable but downright necessary. A recent example was Torraccia's 1998 Cuvée Oriu that friends uncorked for my birthday dinner. Immediately after opening, it was so shrill and ungiving they pulled a 1998 Mas du Daumas Gassac out of the cellar as a replacement. Figuring they had nothing to lose, they decanted the Oriu; it hardly budged for an hour, but when we sat down to dinner two hours after opening, it was a delight. www.chowhound.com/topics/421791#2905075

                    Many young high-end Chenin Blancs also benefit from extended exposure to air. See the recent Coulée de Serrant thread www.chowhound.com/topics/443001

                    1. re: estufarian

                      >> I wonder how many of the above responses are 'personal knowledge' rather than repeating 'accepted wisdom'.<<

                      For me it is very much a personal knowledge. I have not seen a big difference in many reds I tasted - whether decanting or not. But I recently bought a bottle of an Argentinian Malbec (very tannic) where the improvement in having it decant at least 1/2 hour before the consumption totally transformed the wine. Like they say - the more tannic the wine the more it will benefit from decanting. So if I were spending that much effort on some 'blind' tasting with so many people (quite a cots !?) I would have selected the right wines - the ones where difference could be striking.

                      By the way, for anyone engaged in this sort of statistical testing - a warning. The tasting is meaningless unless its results can be repeated. You can ask the same people to taste the same wines and get different answers. In other words the same person can taste the same two wines A and B twice and decide that A is better than B only to contradict his/herself in the second round.

                      1. re: olasek

                        Fair enough; Haven't tried with really young wine. Most young wine I drink has probably been pasteurized (or equivalent) so that it really doesn't matter what is done to it. It's almost been sterilized.
                        Those wines I buy to age, I'm looking for structure (e.g. sufficient acidity) so haven't performed the test.
                        In the test referred to above, we chose relatively expensive wines ($40 and up), where the 'value' of decanting might be more significant.
                        My point is, that we actually did a test with 40 people (and 3 wines). I suspect that this 'experiment' has rarely been done and that some responses are based on 'reading' rather than real tasting experience.
                        Incidentally, we also did other tests - particularly glassware, and the shape/style of the glass used makes a MUCH bigger difference as to how the wine is perceived. In that test, the biggest difference was for Champagne. Astoundingly (for us) we found a significant difference between an ISO glass with a rim and the rimless version (i.e. glass same shape and size) - yes, everybody prefered the rimless glass.
                        So maybe we're a bit obsessive (polite word) - but if you spend a chunk of change on a wine, you (or rather we) want to ensure we get the best experience we can.
                        Oh - the glass test wasn't blind - not really possible to do it that way!

                    2. This is from personal experience. Testing and retesting this theory, here is what we found out. Opening a bottle an hour ahead of time is a good bet. Most wines today have plenty of sulphite which really comes up strong in the first glass right after opening. By opening the bottle, this smell and taste evaporates.
                      So that's one thing. Losing the smell and taste of sulphites.((Could I be spelling that wrong? Or how it is spelled in french?))

                      Second, we do carafe any wine that is older then a few years, especially a Syrah/Shiraz, Valpolicelle Ripassa, the stronger wines, it just really get's rid of any astringent smells and taste. We usually end up vying for the last glasses of wine. As for any other wines we aren't sure of, well, we do it because we have never found that any wines were harmed by it.
                      The new thing we have found out that makes a difference in smelling the wines and its flavor are the glasses used.
                      I am not a scientist, I am telling you what we have found.

                      1. Aosta....

                        Here's how you'll quickly realize the advantage...

                        Step One: Find two bottles of a great micro brew.... could be something from Dogfish or 3 floyds or Anchor of Sierra Nevada or you-name-it... just as long as it's a truly micro-crafted high-grade beer.

                        Step Two: Serve the following side-by-side: 1) A freshly opened bottle of the beer. 2) A GLASS of the beer that has been hard-poured and the head allowed to subside. Not a soft-pour where you trickle the beer down the side of the glass, but a hard-pour right from the bottle to the bottom of the glass.

                        The difference in Glass 2 is that you have introduced ALOT OF AEREATION into the beer.

                        Now taste.... it will be night and day different. In glass 2 the bitterness will be gone, there will be more complexity of flavor, and perhaps as importantly as anything, the perfume (nose) will be more dramatic.

                        Now, I use this illustration of AEREATION to prove the point. The affect of "decanting" beer is very noticeable everytime with great beers. The affect of aereating (decanting) wine varies with the condition of the wine, but it's basically the same experience... the harshness softens, the wine develops more complexity of flavor, and the nose is enhanced.

                        That's the "why" of your question. As for the "when", decanting is most dramatic IMO with younger, more tannic red wines that are relatively "closed up".... the aereation impact, especially if allowed to sit for several hours can be quite dramatic.... also if you have an older bottle a "quick aereation" can liven up the wine and blow off any bottle staleness, lingering tannins, etc. Next time, taste your decanted glass side-by-side with a glass straight from the bottle and see if you don't notice a difference.

                        1. i use decanter often but lately i have been using them more for the younger wine. not much for the older bordeaux...i think decanting old bottle can hurt the wine by giving too much air.
                          i use a method that i read on wine message board for older wine which is slow airation...by pulling the cork 3 to 5 hours ahead and drink it out of the bottle instead of decanter.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: rickym13

                            I prefer drinking wine out of a glass but to each his own. :)

                          2. FWIW, I recently enjoyed a '96 Barolo, decanted immediately before the meal by a restaurant staff unfamiliar with the process. The wine had been recently acquired from a local merchant, had not been cellared (here), and so had no visible sediment. That worked out nicely; no harm done.

                            In the first hour, the tannins had not dissipated, yet the exquisite floral aspect of the wine had dissipated. If I had more bottles of this same wine I would know what to do.
                            For my other similar wines, (age and varietal) I expect to try the next one without decanting to see if the floral nuances last longer.
                            Has anyone else had similar experiences?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Phood

                              That is one of the nice things about asking for, or providing for, if done at home, a glass from the bottle, prior to decanting. One can judge how the wine is progressing. I always do this and try to judge where the wine is, at any point in the evening. I really enjoy charting its development, even if the first sip might be a tannic monster. Unless one knows the wine and its provenance, it's a crap-shoot to just decant for a period of time, and drink on someone else's ideas of what is appropriate. I tend to go for less time, and monitor the wine, but then some are not of that mindset, and that is fine too. A really good sommelier should be able to offer some wisdom along the lines of time in decanter, but not always.