Updated: Oct 20, 2020
This Decanting Wine Guide will give you all the ins and outs of decanting wine. We’ll look at the benefits of decanting wine, different ways to decant, how long to decant, which wines benefit the most from it, and which don’t. You can even experiment to taste the difference between a wine that has been decanted and one that hasn’t.
2 Reasons to Decant Wine
1. Decanting wine introduces oxygen into the wine which makes the flavors and aromas come alive.
This type of oxidation process is a good thing and actually helps the wine to open up (bring out the flavors and aromas) and become more enjoyable. You’ll just need to ensure the wine doesn’t sit out too long or it will become oxidized and taste flat.
2. Decanting helps separate out any sediment that may be in the wine bottle.
While you won’t find sediment in every bottle, you’ll eventually come across a bottle that has this. It helps to keep that sediment out of your wine glass because it can add grittiness to the texture and the wine will look cloudy. This is not an appealing aspect when serving wine.
Wine Decanting Experiment
Taste the difference for yourself! You’ll be amazed. I know I was the first time I tried this.
To experiment, pour the wine straight from the wine bottle into a glass and without swirling take a sip. Then pour the wine into a glass through an aerator (or swirl in the glass) then take a sip. When I’ve tried this with a red, tannic wine the tannins really soften and aren’t as biting.
How to Decant Wine
1. Infusing the oxygen.
Decant your wine by pouring wine from the wine bottle into a wine decanter letting the wine cascade along the side. An aerator is also a useful tool to introduce oxygen into the wine.
If you don’t have a decanter or aerator, then pour the wine into a pitcher and let it breathe for a bit, then using a funnel pour it back into the wine bottle (the only reason to pour back into the bottle is simply for the esthetic — keeping up appearances). Another option is to pour a serving into a glass and swirl the wine around to introduce oxygen into the wine.
2. Separating the sediment.
To avoid sediment in your glass, prep your bottle by setting it upright an hour or even up to 24 hours before you open it. This will allow any sediment to fall to the bottom of the bottle. Or if you store your bottle on the side, you can even carefully keep it on its side and then pour it into a decanter slowly so as not to disturb the sediment.
Whichever method you use, pour the wine slowly and watch for any sediment that moves to the neck of the bottle with the last portions of wine. At this point stop pouring and keep the sediment in the bottle.
Types of Wine That Benefit from Decanting
Typically the deeper, heavier more tannic reds like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux (Merlot/Cab blend), and Syrah/Shiraz benefit the best from decanting. Letting oxygen interact with the wine starts to change the make-up of the wine, breaking it down. This process allows the wine to “open up” which means the flavors and aromas will become fuller and more nuanced.
Inexpensive wines can benefit from decanting as some unappetizing aromas and flavors can flash off with the introduction of oxygen making it more enjoyable.
Types of Wine that Don’t Need Decanting or only Gentle Decanting
White wine really doesn’t need to be decanted because they don’t have tannins and rarely have sediment. However, decanting is a trick that helps the wine warm up to serving temperature and can help some white wine to open up.
Pinot Noir, Red Burgundy (aka Pinot Noir) is also a wine that doesn’t need decanting because it is made with a more delicate grape and has lower tannins. Decanting can degrade the wine quickly causing it to become oxidized and flat.
Older wine can be a bit more delicate and doesn’t need much interaction with oxygen to prep it for optimal flavor. Decant these with care and don’t wait too long before enjoying.
How Long to Decant Wine
The general rule of thumb is to decant wine for 30 minutes to an hour. The deeper red and more tannic the wine the longer decanting will benefit the wine. Have fun and taste the wine along the way to see when you prefer the flavors.
Tip to decant quickly: If you feel the wine is still “tight” meaning the flavors aren’t coming through (and the dinner you've so carefully prepared is ready), then give the wine a swirl in the decanter or double decant. Then enjoy the wine with your meal while noticing how the flavors start to open up.
Types of Wine Decanters
There are so many really cool, artistic decanters out there. However, the one we use is pretty basic and works very well for us. It is easy to use, easy to swirl the wine in the decanter (for extra measure), and easy to clean. Because of all the simplicity, we actually use the decanter vs just looking at it gathering dust.
4 things to look for in a wine decanter:
An opening that's big enough so that it's easy to pour the wine into.
A shape that makes it easy to swirl the wine around in the decanter. Swirling speeds up the decanting process. Some decanters are designed with twists and curves a bit like a snake. This doesn’t allow for much swirling ability.
A design that's manageable to handle when pouring the wine into a glass. Try actually handling different decanters in the store to see what feels the most comfortable to you.
A shape that's easy to clean and dry when you are finished using it. Again, if the decanter has smaller areas that might be tough to get to, it will be harder to clean. However, if you have your heart set on an intricate decanter, there are special tools that can help like a bottle brush and glass cleaner beads.
Cleaning & Storing a Wine Decanter
To clean the decanter, we swirl water in it without any soap. The soap will leave a residue and can affect the taste of the next wine that is decanted. You can also use metallic beads to get any stubborn wine stains off the glass. Just pour the beads into the decanter with some water and swirl. It is amazing how effective these beads are with removing those stains.
Once rinsed, we place the decanter upside down on a stand and put a paper towel in the neck (or lay a towel underneath) to catch any water drips. We just leave it on the stand until we are ready for the next bottle.
Quick Summary – How to Decant Wine
Decanting means pouring wine from a wine bottle to another container like a wine decanter.
Reason 1: Introducing oxygen into the wine allows flavors and aromas to open up.
Reason 2: It helps keep any sediment in the wine bottle.
Best wine to decant:
Deep, full-bodied, tannic reds – opens flavors and softens tannins Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux (aka Merlot/Cab blend) Syrah/Shiraz
Inexpensive Reds – helps to flash off any undesirable qualities
Wine that doesn’t need decanting:
White wine – no tannins and rarely has sediment
Pinot Noir – delicate wine with light tannins
Red Burgundy (aka Pinot Noir)
Wine that should be lightly decanted:
Old wine – more fragile and oxidizes more quickly
Length of time to decant:
The general rule of thumb is to decant wine for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Wine with a deeper color, fuller body, and heavy tannin should be decanted the longest.