When I was living in Chicago during the first 14 years of the new millennium, I had a chance to visit Charlie Trotter’s just once before the famous restaurant was shut down by its infamous namesake owner.
One reason I had only one meal there was because Charlie Trotter’s was notoriously difficult to get into. It was always booked solid. Another reason was it was so expensive. At least in my mind, it was a “special occasion” restaurant, and the special occasion I chose to check it out was my 50th birthday.
It was a great meal made even better by the wine suggestions of the sommelier, Justin Hall. Last I heard, Hall was based in San Francisco, still deeply involved in the food-and-beverage business.
Some years after my meal at Charlie Trotter’s, I remember reading Hall’s words in a book about decanting. It was a simple statement about why the ritual was necessary for some wines. “The flavors have been locked in for so long,” he observed. “Sometimes, the wine needs to open up.”
Certainly, “opening up” is one reason for decanting a wine. The process helps “aerate” the wine, encouraging it to reveal those seemingly dormant flavors.
There’s another reason as well when red wines are involved. Over time, many reds will “throw” sediment in the bottle. It’s a natural part of the aging process, and decanting captures the sediment and keeps it out of the wine glass.
Even some younger red wines benefit from decanting. If you open a bottle, pour an ounce or so into a glass and find the wine to be quite “closed” in flavor, it will benefit from decanting.
Bonus tip: To open up a young “closed” wine quickly, decant it once, pour it back in the bottle, and then quickly decant it again.
You want to be able to experience all the wonderful aroma and flavor nuances of a wine, and in many cases, decanting helps make that possible.