Apart from the necessary task of separating wine from any sediment—still essential for vintage port and some very high-end red wines—decanting is not something many wine drinkers think of doing—but they should. Not for commercial, branded wines, but for those in the $12-$18 sweet spot that come from grapes grown in a specified place, with the name of the winemaker on the label.
At this time of year, many wines from the new vintage in Europe start to arrive and, regardless of the merits of the vintage itself, the wine isn’t always in its best form. It’s unclear why exactly this is; some attribute it to “bottle-shock,” as if the wine, like a genie, must come to terms with its confinement in its bottle, while others blame the ocean voyage or the wine’s extreme youth. In practice, in doesn’t matter.
The new wine won’t taste as good as a wine with 12 months more bottle age, but decanting it will greatly help.
Curiously, you don’t need a decanter to decant: Any jug will do. Open the wine up to four hours before you intend to drink it and pour it as splashily as possible into the decanter to expose the wine to oxygen. This will mimic the effects of aging. You should do this with all red wines, under the age of five, from Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley or Southern France; from the Langhe in Piedmont, Rioja and Ribera del Duero; for Portuguese reds from the Dão and Douro and anything Californian, Australian or South American that has ambitions to be more than a branded product.
Once your wine’s decanted, as well as tasting softer and more complete, it will also look sharp on the dinner table.
Find a wine that matches the description above. Open it and pour enough into a small glass and cover with saran wrap. Decant the remainder and leave for three hours. Pour a second glass from the decanter and compare with the first for tartness and astringency.
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