Thoughts on Decanting
Copyright 2001 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed July 03, 2001. For more information go to www.wineloverspage.com.
Back in January, we talked about decanting wine: pouring it from the bottle into a glass or crystal pitcher, called a "decanter," for serving.
When the subject of decanting comes up in wine education, the question most often centers on when you NEED to do so, and in that case, the answer is fairly clear-cut: Decanting is all but mandatory for vintage Port and mature red wines that have "thrown" a significant amount of sediment during aging. This is simply because careful decanting is the easiest way to separate clear wine from muddy sludge that you don't want in your glass. Decanting is also a good idea when you have an immature wine that will benefit from substantial aeration, more than you can get by simply pulling out the cork an hour or two before dinner.
But I was intrigued by a different spin on this question as asked recently by a participant in our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group forums. As the owner of a fancy new decanter, Jeff Shore was eager to use it, and asked, "When MAY you decant?" Happily, the answer to this question is, "just about any time you want to."
The color and type of the wine isn't really important. If you have an attractive decanter and want to use it to display your wine in a prettier vessel than the commercial bottle, there's rarely any reason not to do so; decanting certainly won't hurt the wine. The one situation I can think of in which decanting might be a bad idea is when you're pouring an ancient wine that has become so fragile with age that it may fade within minutes of pouring. I could also argue against decanting a Champagne or fine sparkling wine, where you want to enjoy the bubble action in your glass and not in a pitcher on the table.