I saw someone shake a decanter of wine like they were making a cocktail. What's up with that?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I recently observed that some sommeliers pour red wine into a decanter and then shake it vigorously as if they were preparing a cocktail drink! Does this help to aerate the wine better? This looks quite inelegant to me. What is your opinion?

—Philip C., Malaysia

Dear Philip,

Remember that there are two very distinct reasons to decant a wine. Older bottles you should decant gently, as a way to separate the wine from its sediment. Shaking the decanter in this scenario would defeat the purpose.

The other reason for decanting is to aerate a younger wine, and in this case, sure, I’ve been known to give it a swirl or two, especially if I’m familiar with the wine or had a taste of it ahead of time and think it really could use that extra handling. In general, I’m not a fan of overly aggressive aerating, as I’ve fielded other questions about using a food processor or blender. I enjoy seeing how a wine evolves in a glass—I’m not really about conducting science experiments, or adding variables I can’t really control or predict.

When it comes to a sommelier shaking your wine, I think for the most part you can relax and assume they know what they’re doing, and perhaps they’re giving you a bit of a show. But if it were an older wine that should be treated more gently, I’d definitely speak up.

—Dr. Vinny

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