Are you getting the most out of your wine when you serve it?
So, you are trying to impress your guests. You’ve planned a great theme and made some delicious food. You’ve spent more than you should on the wine, so how do you know you are getting the most out of your wine when you serve it? All wine, regardless of whether it has a cork enclosure or screw cap, needs some amount of breathing time, minimally 15 minutes in the glass before serving. An exception is sparkling wine, unless you swirl a lot. And swirling is good! With red wines, the more intense the tannins, the more breathing time it will need. Delicate wines like vintage Pinot Noir should not be decanted, but should instead be allowed to gently relax while breathing in the bottle. White wines with good backbones of acidity need only the initial 15 minutes of breathing time to allow any preservatives to dissipate.
Getting the most out of your wine after it leaves the bottle depends on oxidation. Your objective is to maximize the oxidation before the wine touches your lips, helping to soften the flavors and release the aromas. Simply pulling the cork and letting the wine sit for a while does very little unless you pour about half a glass out of the bottle. High-end restaurants with sommeliers use this method, unless the wine needs lots of oxygen in a hurry.
Young tannic red wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Zinfandel) may need to be decanted into a vessel that will offer a large surface space to allow oxygen to get to the wine quicker. Will you need a fancy crystal decanter to accomplish this mission? No, any container with a diameter of at least twice the circumference of a wine bottle will work. A water pitcher or something in which you may have served iced tea, Kool-aid or orange juice will work. Glass is better than plastic, but again, in a pinch even plastic will do.
How long you decant the wine is a lot like discerning when something you are cooking is ready you have to taste it. I recommend every ten minutes. I have tasted wines that have breathed two hours and could use more time, but most are ready in half an hour. If you taste a wine after decanting and it does not taste as good or better than it did out of the bottle, the wine is either flawed or it has been aged past its prime window of enjoyment. Keep in mind, once you decant you need to consume all the wine that has been decanted. “Finish all the wine, are you crazy?” No, really for optimum flavor, red wines should be consumed the day they are opened and discarded after two days maximum. White wines have three days of life in them if you re-cork and refrigerate after opening unless you have a Coravin. It is a relatively new and somewhat expensive apparatus that inserts a needle into the cork and after releasing your desired amount of wine fills the bottle with argon, keeping your wine fresh for months. But then you have to let your wine breath from the glass. Now I think we are back where we started. Enjoy!