Serving Wine: Decanting
You've chilled the bottle to just the right temperature. You've opened it up. You have all the right wineglasses in a row. Now, all you need to do is to pour and taste, right?
Well, almost. Before taking that first sip, remember that some wines should be decanted (that is, poured into another serving vessel) to allow the wine to "breathe." This process aerates the wine, reviving dormant flavors and aromas. Decanting also helps separate the wine from any sediment that may have formed during its long hibernation in the bottle.
You'll notice that most decanters are usually quite broad at the base. This shape allows a large surface area of wine to come in contact with air, letting the wine breathe additional oxygen. Sometimes, the wine is left in the decanter to breathe for an hour or more before serving.
Impatient? The good news is most wines don't need to be decanted. The exceptions are dense, intense wines, for example a Cabernet Sauvignon or red Bordeaux that are more than eight years in age. Some young wines can benefit with a little breathe-time, too. This helps soften their abundant mouth-drying tannins. Also, if you find a strong alcohol taste present in a wine, either decant it or give it a few minutes in the glass before you give up on it—that "hot" quality may blow off after a little time.
There are some wines, however, that should not be decanted, regardless of age. These include delicate wines such as Pinot Noir and red Burgundies. After too much contact with air, their subtle and complex aromas may begin to fade.
You may need to stand older wines upright for a day or two before decanting to allow all of the sediment to reach the bottom of the bottle. While decanting, it helps to hold a flashlight underneath the bottle's neck while you're pouring to make it easy to see the sediment; stop pouring once the sediment reaches the neck.