How do I know how long a wine should be decanted before drinking?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

There is plenty written about wines—rating, prices, when to drink, etc. However, I don’t see anything specific to the rated wines on how long they should be decanted prior to drinking. Is there anywhere to find this information?

—Rodger G., Pittsburgh

Dear Rodger,

You’re right that we don’t give decanting advice with our ratings, but that’s for a few very good reasons. The biggest is that we don’t know when you’re going to drink the wines we’re reviewing. After all, we tend to review most wines upon release, but our advice on how to serve that wine would vary if you’re opening that bottle this week or 10 years from now.

Decanting is also a matter of personal preference. I don’t decant many wines at home, except when they’re older and I’m trying to separate them from their sediment. In these scenarios, I usually open, decant and serve the wine within an hour, as I find that older wines tend to fade much more quickly than younger wines.

I know plenty of people who like to decant just about every young, bold red wine that they open, but for me, it’s fine to just enjoy it as it evolves in my glass. For a young wine, you can decant and start enjoying it right away, but if it seems inexpressive, you can let it sit in the decanter for 2 to 3 hours or even longer. Again, it depends on the wine, what stage of development it’s in, and your own preference. I even know some wine lovers who will track a wine’s development over hours and hours. (They’re called “my friends.”)

To learn what kind of decanting preferences you have, you can experiment. Buy two bottles of the same wine and decant one but not the other (or decant half a bottle and not the other half). See if someone can administer a blind tasting for you to see which one you prefer. But I think you’ll find that the more you start playing around with decanters, the more you’ll realize it’s not just a wine-by-wine scenario, but a bottle-by-bottle or day-by-day choice. Decanting can be a wonderful tool to help a wine show its best, but try not to get too weighed down by thinking of specific rules.

—Dr. Vinny

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