As a known wine lover and sommelier, people often ask me, should I decant this wine or not. My first answer is always - "that depends". I know that this is not really helpful to answer their question, but in my opinion that question doesn't really have a straight forward answer neither.
If you are unsure yourself, don't feel bad. Lots of people are not sure when or when not to decant a wine. Not only that, but even amongst wine lovers and experts there are split opinions as to what wines to decant and which shouldn't be decanted.
But I am already getting myself again ahead of myself. Let's first take a step back and talk about why we would decant a wine to begin with.
One reason would be to help "open" the wine when it is very "tight" (big tannin structure). As example big, young California cabernets would fit this descriptor!
Another great reason to decant a wine would be to separate the sediment from the rest of the wine. Sediment does not always mean that the wine has to be old; as an unfiltered red wine would have some sediment as well as an old wine (sediment in old wine is a result from the breakdown of pigments and tannins over time).
Third reason would be to impress somebody.
Any other wine really doesn't need to be decanted and some actually benefit from not being decanted!
However, if you like to impress others, any red wine certainly can be decanted, however you may get some weird looks from a sommelier in the restaurant, when you ask them to decant a everyday wine of the list.
Below I outlined my personal rule of thumb for aged wine and decanting:
· 7-10 years of age; decant no more than an hour before consumption and leave in decanter
o Barolo would be my one exception to this, decant easily 4-6 prior to enjoyment
· over 10 years of age; decant only to separate the wine from the sediment! Do it right before you are about to enjoy this wine. Keep in soft light! A wine that was kept in the dark for so long, doesn't benefit from sitting under bright light in a crystal decanter!!!
Rule of thumb for young, high tannin wine:
· decant wine about 2 hours prior to serving
So, now that we got this out of the way, let's talk briefly about how to decant a wine. The process of decanting wine for the most part is the same. You just want to keep one thing in mind, the older the wine, the more you want to use caution when taking the bottle out of your cellar to avoid shaking up the sediment in the bottle! For wine over 15 years of age, a wine basket would be a very useful tool to have on hand.
Now back to the opening of the bottle - try to keep the wine in a similar position as you cut the foil, pull the cork, et cetera. Then slowly pour the wine into the decanter under good lighting condition or use a tea light, so you can see when you reach the sediment. It is very important that this process happens all at once, as you would stir up any particles otherwise.
Tip: If you take nice wine that needs decanting with you to a restaurant, decant the wine at home. Then rinse and dry out the bottle (NO SOAP!!!) and pour wine back into the actual bottle. Why? Because you are likely to disturb the wine on the way to the restaurant, making it very difficult to properly have the wine decanted tableside.Learn and speak wine. Why? Because life is too short to drink cheap wine!