Why, When & How to Decant Wine

A decanter — do you own one? If yes, how often do you use it? Do you think it makes a difference to the wine? Why are certain wines decanted and others not? 

There are endless questions surrounding this topic, and it can certainly stir up quite a debate. While the merits of decanting can be quite subjective, I'm here to give you my take on why, when and how to decant.



Photo Credit: We Speak Wine

What Is Decanting?

Decanting is basically the act of transferring a liquid (wine) from one vessel (a bottle) into another (a decanter) without disturbing the sediment. The process also allows the wine to come in contact with oxygen, enhancing the flavour. Most wine will be served from a decanter, but can also be poured back into and served from the bottle, also known as double decanting.

Why Should Wine Be Decanted? 

The main reason for decanting wine is to enhance the flavour, especially in younger wines. Many young wines are often shy and closed on the nose and palate. However, with a little exposure to oxygen, as the wine is poured from the bottle to the decanter, the flavours will be enhanced and improve dramatically.

Decanting is also used to separate the wine from the sediment that is present in older bottles of wine. Sediment can cause your wine to taste more astringent and it also does not look very nice in the bottom of your glass. A decanter will help keep the sediment in the bottle so that the when the wine is served, it is bright, clear and ready to drink!

When Should Wines Be Decanted?

There is no real right or wrong time to decant a wine. Young wines should be decanted within the first two years of vintage. This applies to both red and white wines, and whether they are cheap or expensive (cheap wines can benefit from decanting, too). Older wines vary depending on the variety, and this is  especially the case with red wines. You would decant an older Burgundy much earlier than say you would an older Bordeaux from the same vintage. A general rule of thumb to follow: any wine above 10 years of age can use the aid of a decanter. 

Older white Burgundies and older vintage Champagne can also improve with decanting. 

Now most of you would probably agree with me about decanting older white Burgundies, but an older vintage champagne? Am I out of my mind? Perhaps, but this is the part where decanting becomes very subjective. One would assume that by decanting champagne, the oxygen exposure would  cause the bubbles to dissipate into thin air. However, older champagnes are more about the evolved aromas and complex flavours than the mousse from the bubble, and decanting helps to enhance this flavour profile.

Different Decanters

Photo Credit: Spiegelau

How to Decant Properly

Hold the decanter at an angle and pour the wine in slowly so it runs down the side of the decanter. This flow will help the wine cover as much surface area as possible, giving it more exposure to oxygen. Avoid pouring directly to the base of the decanter, as this will cause the wine to splatter and create unnecessary bubbles, which can result in the wine going into shock. Always leave a little bit of wine in the bottle so that the sediment remains in the bottle and does not go into the decanter.

How long you decant the wine and allow it to "sit" for before serving will depend on the style of wine. 

  • Young white wine: 15min – 30min
  • Older white wine: 45min – 1hr
  • Young red wine: A simple double decant or 1hr
  • Older red wine (Burgundy): 1hr – 3hrs
  • Older red wine (Bordeaux or Rhone): 2hrs  5hrs

Now sit back and enjoy!

To Decant or Not to Decant...That Is the Question

Decanting, as already mentioned, is very subjective, and we all have very different opinions on why, when and how to decant. I suggest using the above purely as a guide and reference. Rather than being too serious about decanting, I suggest we should have some fun and experiment. Take the same bottle, decant half and keep half in the bottle. Then taste and compare.    

I even know someone who has, and possibly still does, use a blender to aerate their wines! I have not tried this, nor will I (yikes!), but according to this friend, it works. What do you think? Let me know your thoughts, or if you have tried it yourself. I'd love to hear from our readers on your views about decanting and any interesting stories you may have encountered. Wine (and wine stories) is all about sharing.

Happy decanting!

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