So have we.
Ever felt that way upon walking into a wine bar? Or at a party with coworkers, when folks with whom you typically chat about Tuesday night TV suddenly break out the heavy-duty vino vernacular?
Yep, we’ve been there, too.
And with the complexity of serving, drinking, and evaluating wine — all this talk of oxygenation, aeration, body, tannins — not to mention the reputation for being just a touch snobby, we can’t blame you.
But we’re here to help.
We’ve collected some of the practical knowledge necessary to serve and drink wine like the pros — or at least to fake it until you make it.
You’ll walk into your next wine tasting cool, confident, and expressing just a hint of floral (or maybe that’ll be the wine).
Today we’re diving into a topic that is a particularly controversial one among oenophiles:
How (and when) to decant
So, you’ve done your research. You’ve gotten suggestions from friends and sommeliers alike. And you’ve purchased a bottle guaranteed to be a perfect complement to the meal you’ve been anticipating.
Unfortunately, the subjectivity of taste being what it is, the experts are divided on whether — and when — to decant.
Decanting — the act of pouring your vino into a separate glass or, preferably, crystal container — exposes the wine to oxygen, causing subtle chemical and physical reactions that can enhance the flavor.
Some (albeit very few) suggest never decanting. Others advocate decanting only young, “tight” wines and avoiding doing so, except to remove sediment, with fragile, older vintages that may lose their luster if exposed too long. Still others swear by blending or shaking every bottle wildly to maximize the effect.
Now, the idea of blending even a bottle of two-buck Chuck scares me no small amount. I think I’m in good company on that one, but it shows just how polar this argument has become.
Decanting the vintage vintages
Many experts suggest one skip decanting older wines, which are more fragile and may lose a great deal of their remaining aromas and flavor if exposed to oxygen too long. However, these wines are more likely to be murky with accumulated grit.
Although this usually isn’t an issue for whites, red wines contain a higher concentration of tannins, which over time can combine with color pigments, creating dense sediment. If shaken up, such as when pouring, this bitter sediment will mix with the wine, changing its flavor.
For an older vintage or any wine that appears murky, store the bottle upright for a day or two prior to serving to allow the sediment to fall to the bottom. However, if you are still concerned about your guests drinking more grit than grapes, decanting to filter out those particles is always an option.
To do this, remove the entire foil and gently pour the wine into your decanter while holding the neck of the bottle over a light source. When you see the darker, murky portion of the wine start to flow into the neck — making a characteristic “arrowhead” shape — stop pouring and dispose of the remaining liquid.
Decanting young wines
The process is easier — and a little less controversial — for younger wines.
Just pour as you would into a glass and you’re done. And because they have been exposed to less oxygen over their short lifetimes, these wines often can stand up to several hours of decanting without losing their flavor.
In fact, decanting the young varieties can serve a dual purpose. It opens the wine up to oxygen, in a sense aging it slightly in a very short time and improving the flavor. It also offers a stylish way to present wine that didn’t cost as much (if your crowd is likely to judge) or has a garish label you’re not keen on showing off.
Although traditional wisdom suggests whites shouldn’t be decanted, some do benefit from being served in a separate container. Full-bodied wines like Chardonnay often benefit from exposure to air. And decanting is a handy, and beautiful, way to warm up a bottle that’s been chilling a little too long.
Tips for the trade
It all seems easy enough, but too much air can have a more detrimental effect than too little, even for young wine, causing the wine to “over-oxygenate” and flavors to fall flat.
So, exactly how much oxygen is enough? Without one of these handy little tools, it’s hard to know precisely (and the experts are clearly divided), but here are a couple of our own tips for easing into the process.
Taste, taste, taste. Unsure if the wine needs aeration? Let it age in your glass, swishing heartily, and pay attention to any changes. Still underwhelming? Then pop it in a decanter and try as you go. After all, practice (drinking wine) makes perfect (wine drinking).
Experiment. Buy two bottles of your wine of choice and try decanting one and immediately drinking the other (not necessarily at the same time) to see which method you like best. Or have a few trustworthy tasters help you track the development of the wine over a set time period.
The whole point here is to trust your tongue: what you think tastes good probably does.
Ask an Expert. Chances are, there’s a wine expert as close as your favorite restaurant, and we guarantee they want to help! Inquire about their preferences for decanting what you order, and apply this knowledge to those you drink at home.
Although it can be nerve-wracking asking these experts questions, just remember: they truly love wine, and they want you to, as well. Think of it as helping them fulfill their life’s work.
After all, a new wine convert is another happy customer — and another potential drinking buddy.
Remember that you must be at least 21 years old to drink in the USA and to always drink responsibly. This information is intended for informational purposes only, and not to promote the consumption of alcohol.