Decanting is a polarizing topic in the still-wine world. The process is performed to separate sediment, allow the wine to interact with oxygen or both. But when it comes to decanting Champagne, you can bet experts have opinions on the matter. And whether to decant the bubbly or not isn’t always clear.
While many producers, winemakers and sommeliers will tell you they never decant Champagne—among them French winemakers Jérôme Prévost, owner of La Closerie, and Clémence Bertrand, winemaker of Bertrand-Delespierre—there is a push for the practice among a niche group in the industry.
For instance, Florent Nys, chief winemaker at Billecart-Salmon recommends decanting “some vintage Champagne or those which have a certain vinosity.” Benoit Déhu, owner of Champagne Déhu, shares that he decants his bottles when he is at lunch or dinner with friends. And Cédric Bouchard, owner of Roses de Jeanne, has previously advocated for decanting his wines one to two hours before serving.
“Decanting Champagne can create a kind of blossoming of the aromas and soften the bubbles,” says Nys. “[It] can reveal some aspect of oak barrels vinification or long aging on lees as well.”
One thing all parties can agree on, however, is that decanting is situational: There are certain times when it should be done, and times when it shouldn’t. And as with any wine, a matter of personal preference plays a role, too.
Why Should You Decant Champagne?
Decanting provides time for the wine to develop naturally after being locked up in a bottle. This is especially important with sparkling wine, as bubbles can become aggressive upon disgorging the cork and cage, which will overpower the secondary and vinification aromas, explains Déhu.
When the Champagne spends time in a decanter, the bubbles have time to settle, thus becoming more refined.
“Carbon dioxide escapes, the acidity decreases and reveals the aromas of the wine and its aging on lees,” says Nys.
When Should You Decant Champagne?
Hugo Bensimon, sommelier at Grill 23 in Boston, recommends decanting “powerful vintages that have years left in their life.”
Vintages like 2002 and 2008, for example, are good decanting candidates as they can present “aggressive bubbles,” adds Thomas Calder, export agent for Roses de Jeanne, Marie Courtin, Thomas Perseval and Bereche.
Calder notes, too, that he normally decants Champagne if he’s drinking with a larger group.