Decanting is the process of introducing oxygen to wine to “open up” its flavors. Think of wine as a living thing that needs air to breathe just like you do. Exposing it to air releases all the characteristics that were confined inside the bottle just waiting to be freed.
It is important to know that only red wines should be decanted. Because red wine grapes stay on their skins, they develop what we call “tannins.” Tannins are what make your mouth pucker when you drink wine and give a powdery sensation on your tongue. When you decant wine, it helps smooth out the tannins and other complexities that are positively affected by air.
White wines generally do not need to be decanted for two reasons. It is because white wines have no tannins and they need to stay slightly chilled so that warm air will not change the taste. Swirling white wine in your glass exposes enough air to bring out the flavors without the use of a decanter. It is important to note that swirling a wine for longer than five minutes may actually cause it to lose its flavor, so don’t overdo it.
How do you decant wine? The most effective way is to pour it into an actual wine decanter. They come in all shapes and sizes, but the key is surface area exposure—the more oxygen that can touch your wine during decanting, the better. If you do not have a good decanter yet, using a glass pitcher will help. Let your newly decanted wine sit and breathe for about an hour, or longer for drier or older reds that may have sediment in the bottom.
Keep in mind that the longer the wine is exposed to air, the more it changes. If you decant your wine too long it can go stale. For the times you are unable to finish the bottle in one occasion, be sure to use a decanter seal to keep the wine from losing its flavor.
Drinking a fine wine is about the experience. Taking the time to decant wine not only opens up the wine, it opens the door to a new world of flavor and aroma that makes every wine adventure more exciting.