Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “DECANT” as a transitive verb:
- To draw off (a liquid) without disturbing the sediment or the lower liquid layers
- To pour from one vessel into another
What should we decant?
Old and young wines! Red and white! Decanting introduces oxygen back into the wine, which helps release more pleasant flavors and scents (it can also help remove bottle stink caused by sulphur preservatives). Most wines can benefit from a bit of aeration and decanters allow for a larger surface area of wine to have contact with oxygen. Careful though! Decanting a wine too much can ruin it.
Why do we decant?
Older wines are decanted to separate the liquid from the bitter sediment that may have formed in the bottom of the bottle, but don’t need to breathe for a long time. Older wines should be opened close to when they are being consumed. Young wines can be closed and tight on the palate, so they are decanted to aerate, soften, and open up. Younger wines, depending on how strong they are, can be decanted from as little as a few minutes to as much as 6+ hours.
How long do we decant?
There’s no hard fast ruling as to how long a wine should be decanted. Generally, the safest way to know when your wine is ready is to taste it along the way—just remember, you can always decant the wine a bit more, but you cannot de-decant it! A wine left in the decanter for too long will take on vinegar-y traits. Older wines don’t need as much time, so a good rule of thumb is 30 minutes. Full bodied wines can be decanted as long at 3+ hours and medium bodied wines should be good after about 1 hour. Too many bubbles in your young champagne? Serve it in a larger glass like for a Burgundy or coupe glass. The more surface area, the easier it is for bubbles to escape.
Your decanting: whether you should or not, and if so for how long, is up to you—basically, if it tastes good, drink it!