It's the debate that has the wine world in a buzz—the Great Decanting Controversy of 2013. On Tuesday, Wine Spectator's Matt Kramer posed a provocative question: Why bother decanting wine? Once upon a time, Kramer says decanting a wine helped to alleviate its flaws (like bad odors or excessive sediment). But now, since production techniques have improved, just what is the ritual for? The comment section went wild. You shouldn't decant—unless it's Italian. Don't decant those Napa Cabs, but you'd better do it with South African Pinots. It's almost enough to make you reach for a beer.
Kramer argues that older wines often have sediment, which decanting separates out. But he also warns us of what he calls the “grandma rule,” which is that “leaving [really old wines] exposed to air for hours is as risky as taking grandma skydiving." On the other hand, young wines benefits from some air-time. But Kramer points out that a majority of today’s wineglasses have such large cups that essentially a few swirls will do the trick of aerating just the same (with one less piece of glassware to clean!).
We called Debbie Zachaeas, co-owner of Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, to get her to weigh in. “I only decant sometimes,” she tells us, “but I love to decant white and red burgundies in general. And most fuller bodied reds.” Really young, really tannic reds would benefit from even double decanting, Zachaeas, tells us, “But at home I’m not drinking those wines so there is no reason, personally, to double decant and if that’s the case I’m going to be cellaring it”.
So, at the end of the day (and the bottle) shall we or shan't we decant?
If for no other reason, decanting is a nice way of allowing your prized juice to open up a bit and keep those judging eyes at bay. It lessens the chance of what Kramer calls “label hypnosis" from occuring. “Many wine lovers [...] are transfixed by the sight of the label. They can't take their eyes—and their palates—off it." So, when in doubt, air it out.