To Aerate or to Decant?
As wine lovers we all want to savour each bottle in the best possible circumstances. An important moment in this is the opening of the bottle. That is when the wine is suddenly exposed to the open air and can start to breathe. It's good to allow the wine some time for this. So it can find its balance and let any possible, nasty gases escape.
For light, fruity wines, or young red or rosé wines, it's enough to swirl it in the glass after pouring. For somewhat longer-aged and bolder red wines, and for some complex white wines, it is better to aerate them. Aeration is simply a matter of pouring the wine into a usually glass carafe with a narrow neck and a wide, round bowl, or into a large wine glass.
Contact with Oxygen
This brings the wine into contact with oxygen which makes it a bit richer and fuller-bodied. After maturing for a long while in a barrel and/or bottle, these wines are often somewhat closed. Aeration allows them to open up fully, to let still young tannins soften and to let too sharp acids dissipate. In fact, a somewhat faster oxidation occurs that lets the wine open up fully.
You can be someone exuberant in your handling of this ‘younger’ wine. Pour it confidently from bottle to carafe, and give it another good swirl too. You can also use an aerator to improve this process. Old wine with sediment then needs to be 'decanted' to prevent any accumulated deposits from ending up in your glass.
Wines with a lot of dregs need first to be left upright for a few hours or even a day, so that all the residue can sink the bottom. If you then decant it carefully, in a single, fluid movement, stopping before the sediment reaches the neck of the bottle, you get a beautiful, clear wine that you can serve at its best. Tip: make sure there is a light source behind your bottle to get a better view of when the sediment is getting close to the neck of the bottle.
A little warning in this context: some wines, like old Pinot Noirs, are so delicate that they can actually lose their aromas if they take up extra oxygen. It's better not to decant them if they don't have too much sediment. Older, stronger wines like a Ribera del Duero stand up to this treatment way better and even benefit from it.
Thereare different shapes and sizes of carafes available. For the careful decanting of old wines with sediment, tall, narrow carafes - also known as a decanters - are best. And lower, wider carafes are preferable for aerating younger wines.
You can find them at different price points too. You can get an ordinary, plain glass carafe for about 25 to 50 euros, depending on the brand. For a beautiful, handblown model it'll easily cost you a few hundred euros.
One thing is certain: a beautiful, large carafe will contribute to the experience of serving and enjoying a good wine, whether it's a young one or something older.