The Importance of decanting wine
Updated: Apr 4, 2021
So in April 2021, I decided to open my only bottle of Smith Haut Lafitte 2016, one of the top wines of the 2016 Bordeaux vintage, this wine was, to be honest: breathtaking. To provide some background; Smith Haut Lafitte is a left bank Chateau producing both red and white wines, located just outside of Bordeaux. It is situated in the Pessac-Léognan appellation, the same as Haut Brion, so not bad neighbours! Opening a 2016 Bordeaux in 2021 is frowned upon, since this wine will be in its infancy stage, shutdown, and probably sleeping. The above is what most consumers believe, however, this is false.
Does decanting wine make a difference?
Wines can be enjoyed at any age, it is all about the preparation of the bottle. If you just opened the wine and poured a glass it would probably feel very shut down. This means little in the terms of fruit definition and an unbalanced palate of acid and tannins . This age is also known as the teenage years, I am sure you can see why ;) It is important to understand you will not be able to achieve the same flavors and textures after 5 years than 20 years, since you will not find many secondary or tertiary flavors. However, I know many who prefer drinking Bordeaux wines on the younger side due to purity of fruit, rather than the earthiness, mushrooms and moss flavours of an older Bordeaux. Whatever your preference, Bordeaux can be enjoyed at any age.
The reason I opened a bottle this young, was that I had yet to enjoy a red wine from Smith Haut Lafitte in a relaxed setting (outside of a tasting event), and I would never buy a case of wine just based on a single tasting. Following a bottle of wine over an evening provides you with a much deep understanding and enjoyment of the wine you will not achieve at a single tasting.
How to find the perfect drinking window for a bottle of wine?
One of the biggest mistakes I hear of, are consumers who buy cases of wine and age them for too long to find the fruit has faded, structure lacking, and energy dissipated. Timing is everything, and I always recommend to open a bottle five years too early than five years too late. Another approach is to buy a case and open a bottle every 4-5 years and see how the wine evolves over time.
What type of wine decanter is best?
Unlike wine glasses, the shape/size of a decanter is less critical. What is important, is how long the wine is sitting in the decanter. As a rule of thumb, the younger the wine the longer, the wine should sit in a decanter. The aim of a decanter is to relax the wine, allow it to breathe, release those harsh tannins and become more approachable. The consumer should not be worried about leaving wine in a decanter for 6-7 hours. I left the Smith Haut Lafitte 2016 in the decanter for 6 hours, this allowed it to properly open and showed a phenomenal bouquet of dark fruits which were not hiding behind a wall of unbalanced tannins or acid. Should all young red wines be decanted? No of course not, and to be honest every wine is different so it is all about experimenting. Caution must be exercised as well, if you decant an older wine for too long, you have the potential to lose the remaining fruit and structure. I will have a follow-up article to try and guide you in terms of what and for how long you should decant certain wines.
Does decanting wine remove sulfites?
No, decanting wine will not remove or reduce sulfites.
Which wine decanter is best?
So in terms of a decanter which is my favorite? The Riedel Cabernet Decanter is my go-to decanter, it works well, is easy to clean, looks good and most importantly helps to open up wine at a gradual pace.