Aging and Decanting: When is a wine ready to drink?

Aging and Decanting: When is a wine ready to drink?

A wine has not finished evolving simply because it is in the bottle. Like a living, breathing thing, it changes and takes on new characteristics as it ages. Because of this, there is no perfect way - or perfect time - to enjoy your special bottle. You should be able to drink it at any point that you decide.

 

As winemakers, we taste our wines over time and wait to release them until they are showing really well, according to what we like (and our customers happen to agree). We continue to taste them even after release, simply to understand where they are in their lifecycle. 

Here are some questions we hear a lot from customers who have just received or just opened a bottle of Claudine Wines - plus some extra info about decanting. 

 

“Should I open this wine immediately or age it?”

The answer to this question depends on the following factors:

  • Your personal tastes - Not all wines are meant to be aged, but even those that are might taste better to you when they are still young. If you like the bitterness of a younger, tannic wine, you should feel well within your right to drink it young. If you prefer a mellow red, let it age with confidence.
  • Your food pairing - If you plan to drink your wine with food, you may find that the aromas of a younger wine are too astringent and overpowering to really compliment your meal. Aging a wine like this allows it to develop into a well-integrated accompaniment.
  • Your wine storage - The ideal cellar temperature for storing wine is 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Any warmer than that and you could actually accelerate aging. 

 

“Why does my wine taste different than before?” 

Wines go through ups and downs in their lifetime. They are moody and prone to change depending on the different factors in their environment. There is even research to suggest that a lot of full or medium-bodied reds go through a “closed” period, where they simply shut down. The aromas go dormant. 

This closed phase is common for wines anywhere from 5 to 9 years of age. If you find that your favorite 6 year-old wine is a little lackluster, don’t lose heart. Let unopened bottles sit for another few years in your cellar. Or, if you just can’t wait, try decanting.

 

What is decanting?

Decanting a wine involves pouring it from the bottle into a different vessel that, by design, allows air to circulate so the wine can breathe. Wine decanters come in many different shapes and sizes, and they all do a pretty decent job - although, it has been my experience that some highly ornate versions sacrifice functionality for design. Regardless, once the wine is decanted, there is no need to pour it back into the bottle for serving (unless you really want to).

What kind of wine should be decanted? 

High quality red wines that are still young (less than 10 years old) are prime candidates for decanting. Wines like these - that are meant to be aged for a long period of time - tend to have a very closed, very astringent character when they are opened too soon. Decanting them allows the aroma compounds to open up and makes it possible to enjoy them even before they reach their peak age. 

You can also decant older reds - but for very different reasons. These wines may have some gritty sediment in the bottom of the bottle that is especially unpleasant if you get a mouthful. It can also make your wine look cloudy. Decanting an older wine allows you to remove that sediment, so you can enjoy every last drop in your glass. Note, you’ll need to do so pretty immediately, because those mature aromas will dissipate quickly with the air exposure.

 

How long should you decant a wine before serving?

The following decant times are for younger vintages. If your wine is 10 years or older, wait and decant your wine immediately before you serve it. 

 

Wine Type

Duration

Zinfandel

~30 minutes

Cabernet Sauvignon

1-2 hours+

Merlot

~1 hour

Pinot Noir

~30 minutes

 

Should you decant white wines? 

White wines do not need to be decanted. In fact, decanting could have a negative effect on the aromatic profile of your favorite whites.


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