Decanting and letting your wines breathe in a decanter are not
exactly the same thing.
The process of decanting is necessary only for red wines which have a lot of natural sediment which has deposited at the bottom of the bottle over time: by tilting the bottle at 45 degrees and slowly pouring the wine down the neck of a decanter, with a small candle underneath to see the sediment, one can stop the pouring as the sediments reach the neck of the bottle in order to have a clear wine.
Pretty much all wines however can benefit from a breathing period in a decanter or a jug, especially young wines. Not only is serving a wine in a decanter visually appealing, it helps the wine release all its aromas.
As soon as the liquid becomes in contact with air, it oxidises; in other words it undergoes a speedy ageing process, with tannins and acidity softening to create a more harmonious and flavoursome wine.
The fact that acidity subsides with oxidation means that whites wine too stand to benefit from breathing; this is a little known fact. As a general rule, one hour is enough for most wines, though you may even find big reds which truly only reveal themselves after 4-5 hours.
There is one type of wine which you should avoid pouring into a decanter: very old vintages, or wines which should have been opened earlier. It’s best to leave them in the bottle until you’re serving your guests, as you may deteriorate the already softened tannins.
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