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Thoughts About Decanting
The best way to improve red wine

In my humble opinion, and contrary to what the geeks at Consumer Reports once called a wine myth, letting any tannic red wine breath will improve it. Decanting is the single most important thing you can do to improve any red wine. Opening a young Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah or blended red 20 to 40 minutes before dinner, pouring it into a decanter and allowing it to oxidize, will soften it up. This can be accomplished using almost any large glass vessel. Actually, while it would not add a lot to the ambiance of your dinner table, a mason jar would probably work. The act of moving the wine from the bottle to another container with a large surface area allows exposure to oxygen to soften the harshness of the tannins and smooths a wine out. If you don't believe me, try this test. Next time you are going to use two or more bottles of the same red wine, decant one bottle about an hour before dinner and open the second bottle just before serving. Now, try a comparison tasting, and you will understand what oxygen does to wine.

You don't have to spend a lot of money on a decanter. Just be sure to go with the widest base you can find, because the more surface area, the more effective the decanter. Trust me, Riedel glasses may have an effect of the way you taste wine, but Riedel's $200 decanters offer no advantage over their $40 or $50 competitors. Wine aerators like the Vinturi or Rabbit pretty much accomplish the same thing if you're in a hurry. However, after a blind comparison we did a few years ago between a decanter and an aerator, we decided that wine that was aerated seemed to suffer some loss of aroma.

Decanting has its best effects on young wines. Many wines tend to throw sediment, especially the unfiltered and unfined wines that have become so popular in the last 20 years. This sediment is pretty unpleasant stuff and it is best left behind when the wine is decanted. If you're a planner, it's not a bad idea pull that bottle you have in mind for Saturday night on Friday and stand it upright to let the sediment settle. While, letting it settle helps, the most important thing when decanting a wine with sediment is to pour slowly and carefully and stop the minute you see a ribbon of sludge headed down the stem. Don't be afraid to leave a half inch in the bottom of the bottle. Actually, while it conjures up the image of the elderly British Bordeaux collector, slowly decanting a way too old wine over a flickering candle, using a flashlight or candle to light the bottle really does help. Also, with the older wines, never let them set for a long period after decanting. In fact, in many cases air can be the enemy with older bottles. Time should have already done its work and many times a 10 year or older wine is at its best as soon as it is opened.