"To Decant or Not to Decant? Expert's Take on Wine Decanting"

Alessandra Meldolesi
Copertina decanter

"Decanting is Like Skipping the First Chapter of a Novel: Kerin O’Keefe of Decanter Challenges Traditional Wisdom. Opt for a Calm Uncorking and an Aperitivo Instead."

Decanter – Yes or No? The ritual is captivating but fading: the solemn pouring, once deemed essential, is now often seen as potentially harmful to wines of a certain age, where delicate nuances must be shielded from any shock. Now, a voice from Decanter, Kerin O’Keefe, steps in, declaring her love for matured Barolo, Brunello, and Barbaresco. But, she insists, not if they've encountered the controversial sommelier's grail.

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"I've engaged in countless discussions on this topic with wine enthusiasts and professionals, and I've found that most either love or hate this transparent glass container. I firmly fall into the 'hate' category, especially when it comes to aged wines. They are fragile, and after years under the cork, a sudden burst of oxygen inflicts the worst kind of shock. Instantly, the wine loses aromas and flavors that will never return. Decanting is like opening a novel to page 50: you miss the introduction and lose the plot. And if you truly want to utterly destroy an aged wine, decant it twice – first into the decanter, then back into the original bottle, cleared of sediments. A practice quite prevalent in restaurants."

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O’Keefe describes a tasting of Barolo ranging from 1964 to 1989 at a renowned New York establishment. Bottles, previously sampled and underperformed. If it were just one, storage might be to blame. But it was consistent. The sommelier admitted to double decanting all bottles a couple of hours beforehand. Decantation enthusiasts argue for the usefulness of removing sediments and the benefits of accelerated aeration, yet the risk is ruining masterpieces. Better to avoid the last sips at the bottle's bottom, or even savor them as the most delectable part, a concentrate of substances, colors, and aromas, Franco Biondi Santi style. 

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According to O’Keefe perspective this holds especially true for Sangiovese and Nebbiolo-based wines, rich in norisoprenoids, precious aromatic compounds needing gentle aeration. Her advice: open the wine a few hours earlier, perhaps sipping a glass of crisp white while you wait. "Nearly all Italian producers refrain from decanting, especially for old bottles. As the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. And not just in Rome."

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