Contrary to popular belief, decanting is mainly required for young wines, which must be opened in order to express their full flavor. The time required varies between 2 and 24 hours depending on the wine and the vintage, as wines that are strong in tannins generally require additional time. Aged vintages do not require long decanting, and you can open the bottle between 1 and 2 hours before tasting.
The main reason for decanting red wines is to separate the wine from the sediment that may have formed in the bottle over the years. This sediment consists mainly of the tannins that have been made insoluble by the chemical reactions responsible for the aging process. The decanting operation is accompanied by some oxygenation, which is often beneficial to young and powerful wines but which could, in fact, be damaging to the oldest wines. For young wines, it isn’t necessary to decant because there is generally no sediment in the bottle. But a light aeration often helps them to “open up”, that is to say to show their aromas better. One can choose either to decant them or to leave them in the glass a moment before drinking them.
As soon as the wines have sediment in the bottle, it’s better to decant them whatever their age. The simplest way is to carefully decant the wine into a carafe – or another bottle – above a lighted candle. The sediment will slide along the bottle into the shoulder and the neck of the bottle. In general, it’s better not to decant too long before serving.
Traditionally the great Bordeaux wines are served “chambrés”, that is to say at an ambient temperature of about 18-19°C (64-66 °F). Above that temperature, the nose loses some finesse and the alcohol overpowers the delicate aromas of the bouquet; even in the fruit in young wines the tannins appear to be drier and less fleshy. When the temperature is too low, the aromas have difficulty in coming out and the wine seems dull and shorter. The same principles apply to the white wine; however, the temperature threshold is lower and it should be served at between 10 and 13°C (50 and 55°F) depending on the room temperature.
We advise our customers not to serve wine just at room temperature. For one, room temperature is hard to control. More importantly, most Americans prefer room temperature around 72°F. That is simply too warm for red wines, and scorching hot for white wines. One would taste the strong scent of alcohol, and wonder where all the fine and delicate scents wine critics rave about have gone.
Here are some general guidelines from the cellar master at Château Lafite Rothschild on the serving temperatures of different wines:
- 16 to 18°C (60 to 65°F) for oak-aged reds
- 15 to 17°C (59 to 63°F) for un-oaked reds
- 10 to 12°C (50 to 54°F) for whites and rosés
- 8 to 10°C (46 to 50°F) for sweet whites