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Can you lose something by decanting a wine for too long?

Peter D. Meltzer
Posted: February 10, 2011

Q: Can you lose something if wine is decanted too long before consuming?—John

A: In two words, it depends. There are two fundamental reasons to decant a wine:

1. To provide extra aeration for a recent vintage by exposing it to the air as it is poured from the bottle into a decanter.

2. To separate the sediment or deposit of tartrate crystals that have accumulated at the bottom of an older bottle.

The former poses little risk or damage to a wine, and may aid in "opening up" its contents. Some collectors open and decant a recent vintage several hours prior to serving to facilitate the process. While the latter may succeed in eliminating the sediment (you stop pouring when the deposit reaches the neck of the bottle), you also expose the wine to oxygenation in the process, which poses a risk. I have attended tastings of older vintage wines where the bottles were opened too soon (2-plus hours before pouring), and the wine was slightly madeirized. My suggestion is to open and decant an older bottle about half an hour prior to serving.

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