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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Can you clear up the function of a decanter for me? Yes, I know that older wines are decanted in order to remove sediment, and I'm familiar with the idea of "airing out" a wine. But when is this really appropriate? When I recently drank a 1986 Château Mouton Rothschild, was it a good thing that I let the wine breathe in the decanter for an hour? What about young wines? Whites? Reds? There's too much information out there--help!

—Nikolai Loveikis, Los Angeles

Dear Nikolai,

Decanting does two things: separates the wine from any sediment that may have formed and aerates the wine. While some feel that extra boost of oxygen can open up a wine and give it extra life, others feel it makes a wine fade faster, and that swirling wine in a glass is sufficient aeration.

A particularly fragile or old wine should only be decanted 30 minutes or so before drinking. A younger, more vigorous, full-bodied wine (and yes, even whites) can be decanted an hour or more before serving. I've had wines that were decanted for hours and even days that were showing beautifully, but these experiments can be risky.

—Dr. Vinny

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