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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Which wines benefit most from decanting? Older reds? Old World? Any particular varieties? Does it matter if the wine is near the end of its drinking window? Some of my friends don’t decant older wines that may have already have acquired some oxidation, however, I've found that an older wine with a barnyardy nose becomes more pleasant with a little air. What advice do you have?
—Dwight, South Carolina
There are two main reasons to decant wine: to separate a wine off its sediment (primarily for older wines) and to expose a wine to oxygen, which can allow it to open up and become more expressive (primarily for younger wines). Check out Wine Spectator’s Decanting 101 for a complete guide.
I notice sediment forming around the 10-year mark for red wines, and it can be really unpleasant to have that grit in your mouth. Bigger, more tannic wines are more likely to form sediment (sediment is comprised of color pigments and tannins that have bonded over time and fallen out of the solution). It’s important to remember that when you’re decanting a wine off of its sediment, it should be handled gently. An older wine might also “open up” from some additional air, but older wines can also start to fade quickly once they’re decanted.
For younger reds (and sometimes whites!), decanting can enhance their aromatics. Big, dense reds typically benefit most from decanting, but many other wines can show better too.
If you’re not sure whether or not a wine needs decanting, open the bottle and pour yourself a glass. If it seems a bit tight and inexpressive, give decanting a shot.
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