I recently discussed the growing trend of decanting Champagne – even the vintage, expensive stuff! (see The Benefits of Decanting Champagne! Cellarit Blog, 24 August 2011). And as a regular reader of The Wine Front reviews by Campbell Mattinson and Gary Walsh, I’ve noticed that they often come back to a wine a day or two after first opening it. In Mattinson’s review of the Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Cabernet Merlot 2004, for example, he commented that: “The longer it sat in the glass, the juicier and lengthier it became – and it drank better on day two.” (Wine of the Week: Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Cabernet Merlot 2004, Cellarit Blog, 25 August 2011).
Hard to believe then that the jury is still out on the value of decanting wine!
In fact, oenologist and Burgundy specialist Professor Emil Peynaud is completely against the idea. He argues that prolonged exposure to oxygen actually diffuses and dissipates more aroma compounds than it stimulates. Better just to pour the wine from the bottle directly into a wine glass and swirl before drinking. (The Australian Wine Encyclopedia by James Halliday, 2009: Hardie Grant Books)
In the days before wine was bottled without filtering or fining, decanting was useful because it helped to separate the clear wine from the sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Today, sedimentation can still be an issue for older bottles, but if the wine is very fragile too much exposure to oxygen may cause it to fall apart.
Decanting can soften the tannins in young tannic wines like cabernet sauvigon and shiraz, but how it actually does this is also a matter for debate! Oxidation may just alter the perception of sulfites or other compounds in the wine, making the tannins seem softer.
In any event, serving red wine, in particular, at room temperature is a good idea whether you decide to decant the wine or not. The warmer temperature tends to liberate the aroma molecules and may mask the perception of harsh tannins. Even white wines and Champagne will release more aromas and flavours when not too chilled. And most wines should be probably be consumed within one or two hours of decanting.
Photo Credit: Chef’s Pencil