To decant or not to decant. That is the question. Is it nobler of the vine to suffer the slings and arrows of tannic tightness, or to take up arms against it with a sea of aeration, and—by so opposing—soften them?
Red wines, especially those with strong tannins, benefit from exposure to air. White wines, not as much. Surprisingly, Champagne and sparkling wines benefit by improving their nose (smell/aroma)—and do not lose their bubbles.
Two ways to aerate: decanting and pouring into a large glass (you can use both). Simply removing cork from bottle is virtually worthless (not enough wine exposed).
Decanting is called for in two circumstances, both involving tannin: to expose young, tannic wine to air so it will open up (tame tannins), or to separate older wine from sediment (the precipitate of tannins).
When decanting to aerate tannic wine, you want wine to breath for some time. Thirty minutes to an hour or more for Bordeaux. Very tannic wines—young Spanish Riojas or Italian Barolos and Barbarescos—benefit from hours of aeration.
Decant older wines to remove sediment. Such decanting involves carefully pouring into decanter so sediment remains in the bottle. Use a candle (traditional) or electric light to visualize sediment as you pour. Older wines usually are hurt by prolonged air exposure, so drink older wine soon after decanting.
Don’t have a decanter? Use a big glass (except for sparkling wines). Swirling exposes wine to air. Sip every so often to see how wine evolves. When taste is right, enjoy.
• Vinhos Borges Douro Lello Red. Red fruits, spices. Let it breath. Spain. $9
• Bodegas Riscal Tempranillo Viño de la Tierra de Castilla y León. Plums and prunes, a bit chewy, improves with aeration. Spain. $9
• Chateau Roland-La-Garde Cotes de Blaye. Full-bodied, integrated tannin, long finish. Swirl generously in big glass. Bordeaux. $13