by Marty Cook
You may ask, “Why decant a wine?” and “Does decanting improve a wine?”
According to Wine Enthusiast, “There are two main reasons for decanting wine. The first is physical—to separate clarified wine from solids that have formed during aging. The second is that decanting accelerates the breathing process, which increases the wine’s aromas from natural fruit and oak, by allowing a few volatile substances to evaporate. Decanting also softens the taste of the tannins that cause harshness and astringency in young wines.”
Most red wines benefit from decanting, including less expensive wines to improve their flavor. All it takes is a suitable decanter, a bit of pre-planning, and some patience. In the remainder of this article, we will focus on decanting red wines.
Decanting times for red wines can range from approximately 30 minutes to more than 3 hours, depending on the grape variety and age of the wine. A list of decanting times for different types of red wines is shown below; and, since every bottle of wine is somewhat unique, check your wine periodically as you decant to determine if it meets your individual taste requirements. When the wine reaches a point where you find it rather pleasant, then it is time to drink it!
Most of us drink red wines that are five years old or less; so, the following rules-of-thumb apply to approximate timeframes when decanting most red wines.
Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot: 2 hours
Dão and Douro Reds: 2 – 3 hours
Grenache/Garnacha Blends: 1 hour
Malbec: 1 hour
Mourvèdre/Monastrell: 2 – 3 hours
Nebbiolo: 3+ hours
Petite Sirah: 2 hours
Pinot Noir: 30 minutes
Sangiovese: 2 hours
Syrah/Shiraz: 2 – 3 hours
Tempranillo: 2 hours
L V Port & Madeira: 2 hours
Zinfandel: 30 minutes
In the case of red wines with very high levels of tannin, consider decanting for more than three hours. Younger wines or wines with more astringency (tannin) will require a longer time for decanting. But, again, it is important to taste as you decant and avoid decanting a wine for too long. Keep in mind that there are limits to how much a wine will improve and decanting is a non-reversable process. Also, after a red wine is decanted, it has a limit to the length of time that it will remain palatable (generally 12 hours at best).
For best results with an old red wine in the 15 – 20 year range, it is advisable to decant immediately before serving, tasting as you go. And, avoid using wine aerators with old(er) wines.