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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I have recently acquired a bottle of Morey-St.-Denis 1970. I have read that a 50-year-old bottle should be enjoyed with haste due to its fragile state. Forty-three is pretty close to that age. Should I decant, and for how long?
—Steve B., Louisville, Ky.
If 43 is the new 50, then I’m suddenly feeling much older than I actually am.
There are two major reasons to decant a bottle of wine: either to aerate it, or to separate it from its sediment. In this case, you’ll want to separate it from its sediment. A wine that old usually has a good deal of sediment, a natural byproduct of aging. Sediment can make a wine seem gritty, so I’d recommend following these simple steps for decanting. Note the part about setting the bottle upright for a day or so before opening; I found that it really helps a lot.
You’re right that mature wines—say, past their 10th or 15th birthday—tend to fade faster than their younger counterparts. With that in mind, I’d plan on opening your bottle, decanting, and serving right away. I’ve had older wines lose their aromatics and most of their flavor as quickly as 30 minutes or so. Others have a longer life and can go another hour or two in the glass. It’s pretty rare for a wine of that age to still show well later than that. It’s not like the wine suddenly becomes terrible or turns into vinegar (though you might get some vinegar-like whiffs), but the wine will go from being distinctive to a more generic “old” taste, or sometimes just taste stripped—all you can pick out is the alcohol and the nutty, oxidized notes typical of an older wine. It’s the younger and less expressive wines that might benefit from extended aeration in a decanter.
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