While most casual wine drinkers simply uncork a bottle, set it on the dinner table, and just fill a pair of glasses to enjoy with dinner, the truth is that doing this might not be the best way to enjoy that glass of wine. In fact, nearly every wine expert recommends a process known as decanting.
It’s a fairly simple process: you uncork your wine bottle and then pour the entire contents into a decanter, which is a container typically made from high-quality glass. Lead crystal is a favorite choice, as it has unique properties that can bring out the color and opacity of a wine in ways that blown or cut glass simply cannot.
In some cases, decanting the wine will keep the sediment that forms in very old wines in the bottle instead of being passed to the wine glass. This sediment is safe to drink, but changes the flavor of the wine – and usually in a negative way – so decanting will keep the flavor intact.
Additionally, pouring the wine from the bottle into the decanter lets the wine interact with the outside world in a way it hasn’t since it was bottled all those years ago. It’s especially important to expose the wine to oxygen; the process, which is called aerating, begins a chemical reaction that will bring out the most subtle and complex characteristics of the wine.
Many wine enthusiasts will let wine that’s been decanted sit for several minutes or even hours to bring out the full flavors; however, this isn’t always necessary for older wines, as they have had plenty of time to reach their peak flavor during the aging process. While decanting is still acceptable for an aged wine, most wine experts will recommend serving it immediately afterwards instead of waiting.