Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
How should I decant a double-magnum of a 20-year-old wine? Should I let it "breathe" for longer or shorter than a standard bottle?
—Ryan, New York
Keep in mind that the purpose of decanting older bottles of wine (wine starts heading into that “older” category at around age 10) isn’t to let a wine “breathe” and get exposure to air; it's to separate the wine off of its sediment.
When decanting a large-format bottle, be prepared ahead of time with as many decanters as you need and an extra pair of hands, since the decanting process should be continuous. If you stop halfway and stand the bottle up while you search around for a second decanter, you’re likely to agitate the sediment inside.
It’s generally accepted wisdom that larger bottles age more slowly than standard 750ml bottles, but these observations are anecdotal and not scientifically measurable. At age 20, regardless of bottle size, I’d be most concerned about preserving the wine's aromas and flavors, so I’d decant it and serve it immediately. In some cases, the wine may continue to evolve and improve over the next hour or two.