To decant, or not to decant, that is the question...

Have you ever noticed that your second glass of red wine from a bottle seems better than the first? Do you detect more fruit, is it more balanced, and do you smell more than just the alcohol and oak that you noticed from the first glass? What you appreciated was the wine “opening up”, a term used to describe how wine changes once it is exposed to oxygen for a little while after you open the bottle. This is not a phenomenon that is applicable to white wines, which in general are much more forgiving when it comes to oxygen exposure. Most white wines can be enjoyed days after being opened with no ill affects. Now to be fair, oxygen can be good and bad for wine. Red wine that is exposed to oxygen for an extended period of time (days to weeks or longer) can actually suffer quite a bit. It will lose flavor and begin to taste flat and bitter. A little oxygenation however, can be a good thing. Allowing your red wines to open up and “breathe” for 30 minutes to an hour before you drink them lets the wine exhibit it's full range of smells and tastes. Where you initially noticed alcohol and oak on the nose, you will now be able to discern the fruit, spice, and vegetal qualities of the wine, and a full array of smells and tastes that you otherwise might not notice if you had not taken the time to decant your wine. As a final note, red wines can sometimes have sediment in the bottle, and careful, slow decanting into a decanter or carafe allows you to leave the last bit of wine in the bottle to contain the sediment. This means that when you pour your decanted wine you will have little to no sediment remaining. This can also be accomplished by carefully pouring the wine directly into glasses with a bottle aerator placed into the top of the wine bottle or held over the glass. So to answer the question, decant your red wines for 30-60 minutes prior to drinking them, or at the very least pour them through a bottle top or hand held aerator, and revel in the experience of enjoying a well balanced, nuanced, fine wine.

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