We decant wines for two reasons:
1. To remove sediment from the bottle (usually an issue only for older red wines); and
2. To aerate (oxidize) a young wine (usually a red wine).
If you will decant your younger red wines, they will taste better, and their nose will be more forthcoming.
Here's how to decant a younger red wine: open it, about two hours before drinking, and pour it slowly into the decanter. Put a bright light source behind the bottle's neck, so you can watch the wine that passes by the neck and stop decanting if you see sediment. Let the wine sit in the decanter for a few minutes or up to twenty minutes (I think most of the oxidizing happens through the act of pouring/splashing, so it's not critical to let the wine sit in the decanter for a long time.) Feel free to swirl the wine in the decanter, if you like. If you have more bottles to decant, you can rinse out the bottle (let it drip out well) and then refill it from the decanter back into the bottle (use a small funnel and pour slowly). I like doing this, so guests can see what wine they are drinking.
Older red wines: If a red wine is more than twenty years old, then it might be best to NOT decant it, as decanting can destroy (use up) a fleeting flash of wine greatness that can be captured by the wine lover only when the wine goes direct from just-opened to being drunk. But older red wines can have serious sedimentation issues, and nobody wants to drink sediment. One way to deal with this is to set the bottle upright for several days before opening, and then open it carefully, never jostling the bottle, and pour it slowly into the glasses. If you do this, any sediment will remain at the bottom. An alternative is to decant the bottle, just before drinking, very carefully, to keep any sediment in the bottle.
Here's a decanter I like (see photo below):
a. It's inexpensive! $22 plus S&H, versus about $60-$100 for equivalent styles from other suppliers.
b. It's large enough to have a huge surface area for a 750ml bottle, and at 60 oz size it can also hold a magnum (which is approximately 50 oz). Many other decanters will barely hold one bottle, which isn't ideal.
c. Don't use the decanters with a large bowl and a vertical neck--it's difficult to pour from those, because to get the last of the wine out, you have to hold the decanter upside down vertically, which is awkward to do. The "slant" or "duck" style is much easier to use (and to clean).
d. Don't wash your decanter with soap, except in occasional circumstances when you are wiling to rinse repeatedly (seriously, maybe fifty times) and check with your nose for any residual soap smell.
e. Decanters with a "wine swirling" feature (sometimes called "venturi" feature) are great, but that feature costs more and might be more difficult to clean.
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