You just got a promotion, your best friend just got engaged, or your significant other came home with a beautiful steak begging to be paired with a luxurious red wine and you reach for that 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon you've been tenderly caring for in your wine fridge for the last 10 years, because today is the day you're ready to celebrate! But before you decant that red and "let it breathe" like you've heard time and time again — STOP! You might just kill your wine. While visiting Silver Oak in Alexander Valley, I learned a pretty stunning fact . . .
You should never aerate perfectly aged wines.
Really? We abruptly halted our tour guide and questioned him in depth. Yes, younger red wines are known for having higher tannic profiles like Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, etc. Wines that haven't had the time to naturally age can benefit greatly from being decanted for 30 minutes to an hour before drinking. The oxidation that occurs brings the wine's backbone flavors and aromas up to the surface. Nate Weis, the winemaker at Silver Oak also suggests vigorously shaking the decanter to provide "O2 saturation" and says that this wine can be enjoyed throughout the night and possibly even into the following night.
Older wine that has been aged to perfection should be ready to pour immediately.
But red wines that have been aged between eight to 10 years (or longer) have most likely already been properly oxidized with time. It makes sense when you stop to think about it. When you open that cherished bottle it's already supposed to be at its optimal flavor profile, so why give it the treatment of a young buck wine?
But what about decanting the sediments out? Over the years, various elements in the wine such as tannins and other chemicals begin to bind together, solidify, and turn into those little flecks of sediment that you sometimes find with older bottles. They can sometimes taste bitter and let's face it, no one wants little bits of anything floating in their glass of red.
If you're a planner, the best course of action is to remove your bottle from the wine fridge, aging rack, or back of your closet — where you've hidden the good stuff so your friend's don't accidentally drink it while watching Scandal — a few days before you're ready to open it and set it upright so the sediment can slowly float down and settle at the bottom of the bottle.
Non-planners, use a decanter, but set a timer.
It's great to not only visually see when the sediments have floated to the bottom, it's also a good way to check the color and vibrancy of the wine before serving it. But don't let it sit too long, 10 to 15 minutes at the most, or else all of those flavors you've worked so hard to age could die a very sad death.
If you happen to be so lucky as to have a very very old wine — we're talking 40 to 60 years — first, thank the incredibly smart person who decided to save his or her wine that long. Then get ready. Weis warns that you should be very careful about the O2 exposure. It's always up to you and your nose, but when the wines are that old, even if you decant it gently, the clock might already be ticking on its lifespan. Weis says can sometimes it can be measured in minutes, so make sure your glass is in hand when you pop that cork.
And for the love of Bacchus, uncorking a wine and letting it sit in the bottle does not decant, aerate, or "let the wine breathe" in any shape or form. It basically just makes you sound pretentious.
Now as any good wine drinker knows — a lot of this is very subjective to the exact bottle you're drinking. There aren't any super hard or fast rules when it comes to enjoying a glass, but by and large these are some good tips to know so you don't accidentally lose what makes your wine so special!