This has been an ongoing wine debate even within my own family. My husband likes to think the wine needs hours to decant while others think that airing out a bottle throughout a long Italian dinner is plenty. Luckily there is some consensus amongst the wine experts concerning two major reasons to decant wine.
For young tight wines
Especially for us in Piemonte, we are lucky to have some of the best wines in the world like our bold, tannic and assertive reds like Barolo. When young, such a wine may need as much air as it can get, giving it the proper time to mellow out while best displaying its many layers of aromas and flavors.
Too speed up this process, decanting a young complex and tannic wine is an optimal solution. After all, people keep their big reds in their cellars for decades, so decanting for a few hours is not going to hurt. In this case, a decanter with a wide opening at the top would be best.
On the other hand, when you have a very aged red wine like Barolo, it may “throw” sediment. It is important to stand the bottle up vertically for about 24 hours prior to drinking which will help the sediments settle to the bottom. If you don’t have time to think that far in advance, using a decanter or better yet a decanting cradle, would be essential. Here we don’t want to aerate this older and perhaps fragile wine too much because it may kill whatever fruit and vigor is left. In this case, a decanter with a narrow opening would be ideal. Slowly pour your wine into the decanter, being careful not to pour in the sediment.
If you need to use a flashlight or a candle to see inside the bottle, that could be a useful tool. Once again, I wouldn’t leave the wine in the decanter for an extended period because you might overly speed up the oxidation process and therefore strip the wine of its remaining vitality.
How long should I decant?
Again, there are no rules when it comes to decanting. There are even some who believe a wine can decant for days before consuming! With a young wine, I would find a happy medium and decant it for a few hours before drinking while for an older wine, it would be wise to decant immediately before serving.
One of the best things to remember whether you use a decanter or not, is to use the right glasses for your important wines. A wide bowl wine glass for a Barolo would be perfect for aerating it and giving the wine a head start. Cleaning you glassware and decanter should not be underestimated either. The best way to clean a decanter is to drop ice cubes and salt inside and swirl it around to purely clean the glass without adding any soapy residues. Make sure to let it air dry! My husband even made us our own contraption for air drying the decanter.
When it comes to decanting, there will always be debates but the best thing to do is try for yourself and remember to enjoy the wine! As Robert Parker says:
There can never be any substitute for your own palate nor any better education than tasting the wine yourself.