Decanting wine, like all aspects of the culture, is steeped in mystery to the uninitiated.
Today, though, we’ll cut through that mystique to show you how to enjoy your investment at it’s very best.
First thing’s first, what is a wine decanter and why should you care?
- I. What Is a Wine Decanter?
- II. Why You Should Decant Wine
- III. How to Use a Wine Decanter
- IV. How to Decant Wine Without a Decanter
- V. How Long to Decant Wine
- VI. Why Should You Decant Wine?
- VII. How Should You Clean a Wine Decanter?
- VIII. Do All Old Wines Need Decanting?
- IX. Wine Decanting Tips
- X. Conclusion
I. What Is a Wine Decanter?
A wine decanter is a glass or crystal container into which you pour wine before serving.
The fundamental purpose of decanting wine is to increases the amount of surface area exposed to the elements. As the wine interacts with more oxygen than normal, the oxidation process is triggered. This ensures the tannins of the wine are softened. Those sulfites whiffing unpleasantly of sulfur will be eliminated. Some of the medicinal, alcoholic taste should also be diluted.
While some of the effects can be achieved by simply pouring your wine into a glass, the effect will not be as striking. A wine glass, after all, is intended to funnel liquid efficiently into the mouth. A decanter, on the other hand, is constructed to maximize aeration.
An inbuilt benefit of decanting older red wine is that you’ll minimize the chance of pouring any sediment into the glass.
So, with that basic definition sketched in, let’s press on…
II. Why You Should Decant Wine
You should decant your wine in any of the following instances:
- Whenever you need to bring red wine up from storage temperature to serving temperature
- If you have a young red wine that needs the tannic structure weakened slightly
- With older red wines, you can avoid sediment ending up in the wine glass
So far, so good. How do you use these things, though?
III. How to Use a Wine Decanter
You typically store wine bottles horizontally. If you don’t keep wine bottles on the side, the cork can end up drying out as it won’t be in contact with the liquid.
Now, if you plan to decant wine you feel is likely to contain sediment, you should first leave the bottle standing upright for at least 12 hours. This will allow the sediment to settle.
You have 2 main methods of decanting wine:
- Regular Decanting
- Shock Decanting
Regular decanting is exactly what most people would bring to mind when they picture decanting wine.
With this standard method, you pour the wine very slowly into the decanter. The choice is yours here. Either rest the decanter on a flat surface as you pour, or hold the decanter in one hand as you pour with the other hand.
Whichever approach you take, ensure you pour slowly and carefully. The less splashing that occurs, the more older wines will retain their color and texture along with the overall structure also remaining intact.
There’s another benefit to pouring slowly, too. Using a controlled and gentle pour means you’ll have more chance of spotting any rogue sediment. The most efficient way to achieve this is to use only one hand to pour. Use the other hand to apply a source of light to the bottle neck. Use a match or a lighter. As soon as the wine you are pouring starts to take on a dusty or cloudy appearance, you’re done.
While decanting wine in this way will not actually filter the sediment out of the wine, you should have a fighting chance of identifying and avoiding it if you take your time when pouring. Sommeliers the world over have this technique down to a fine art. Luckily, mastering it at home doesn’t take too much time or trouble.
How about shock decanting, then? What’s that all about?
Shock decanting is sometimes referred to as quick splash decanting.
With this technique, you tip your wine bottle vertically. You pour your wine into the decanter using the force of gravity. As with regular decanting, you can either hold the decanter vertically or set it down on a flat surface. Experiment with both methods and stick with what feels comfiest.
Shock decanting allows the wine to hit the base of the decanter forcefully. It then splashes off the bottom and starts swilling around.
When should you employ shock decanting?
This style works best with young reds rich in tannin that have been aged for less than 2 years. By vigorously aerating this type of wine, you’ll ensure the wine is exposed to more oxygen. This style of aggressive aeration will isolate the sediment effectively.
Shock decanting is inadvisable for any mature red wine with sediment accumulated on the bottom of the bottle.
What if you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have a wine decanter to hand, though?
IV. How to Decant Wine Without a Decanter
None of the following alternatives will decant wine as efficiently as a proper wine decanter, but they’re worth outlining for any occasions where you can’t access proper equipment.
- Decanting Wine With a Blender
- Decanting Wine With an Aerator
- Decanting Wine By Swishing It Around
Decanting Wine With a Blender
Now, using a kitchen blender to decant wine might sound sacrilegious, but it’s amazingly effective with young red wines. With other types of wines, using a blender is not the way forward.
All you need to do is pour your bottle of red into the blender and blitz it for 15 seconds.
The movement of the blender blades is responsible for accelerating aeration.
Decanting Wine With an Aerator
A wine aerator forces wine into close proximity with a stream of highly pressurized oxygen. The force of this stream not only aerates your wine in an instant, but it also swishes the wine around nicely.
When you use a wine aerator, you’ll be triggering the oxidation process. At the same time, you’ll also be boosting the rate at which the wine evaporates.
Think of a wine aerator is a turbo-charged decanter.
Decanting Wine By Swishing It Around
A regular wine glass is expressly designed to aerate wine. If you pour your wine into a glass then simply swish it around a few times, this bare-bones approximation of decanting is much better than nothing.
How long you should allow your decanted wine to sit and breathe, though?
V. How Long to Decant Wine
One of the most frequently asked questions we get here at Bricco Wine Bar is how long it takes to decant wine.
The answer? It depends.
Shock decanting is a quick and easy method. The benefits you will derive are delivered near instantly. Drink after just a few minutes breathing. There’s no need at all to let it sit for more than 15 minutes when you’ve shock decanted.
How about when you have older red wines and you’re decanting them using the traditional method?
Experiment and find what feels best for you. You should allow these wines to breathe for 30 minutes to around 4 hours.
To get a little more precise, we’ll walk you through a selection of the most popular red wines and how long you should decant them for.
Here’s an alphabetized breakdown of red wines and their corresponding decanting times:
- Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot: 2 hours (e.g. Bordeaux)
- Dão and Douro Reds: 2–3 hours
- Garnacha Blend: 1 hour (Priorat, GSM, Côtes du Rhône)
- Malbec: 1 hour
- Mourvèdre/Monastrell 2–3 hours (e.g. Bandol)
- Nebbiolo 3+ hours (Barolo, Barbaresco)
- Petite Sirah: 2 hours
- Pinot Noir: 30 minutes (red Bourgogne)
- Sangiovese: 2 hours (Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti)
- Syrah/Shiraz: 2–3 hours
- Tempranillo: 2 hours (Ribera del Deuro, Rioja)
- Vintage Port & Madeira: 2 hours
- Zinfandel: 30 minutes
The vast bulk of white wines don’t need decanting. Indeed, in some instances, decanting delicate whites can be damaging.
If you encounter one of those bottles of wine with a musty kind of smell, decanting can help remedy this. Typically, white wines produced in cooler climates are prone to this. Counter it by decanting the wine for 30 minutes before serving.
VI. Why Should You Decant Wine?
Now, we’ve already touched on the reasons for decanting wine briefly. We’ll expand upon this slightly to go beyond sediment-removal and aeration.
Here are the 5 core reasons for decanting your wine and getting the very best out of your precious investment:
- Sediment Removal
- Correction of Reduced White Wines
- Warming Up Wine
Whether you shock decant or use a traditional method of decanting, you’ll speed up oxidation and evaporation simultaneously. Both of these chemical processes are known to intensify the flavors and aroma of wine.
With red wines, molecules of tannin start forming into chains. These chains of molecules end up forming into sediment on the bottom of the bottle.
If you decant the wine, you can spot this sediment as you pour. Avoiding sediment in the wine glass is one of the primary reasons for decanting. This is doubly vital with maturing reds.
Correction of Reduced White Wines
Some whites give off a detectable whiff of sulfur as you crack them open with your corkscrew.
All you need to do is splash decant wines like this and leave them to sit for 15 minutes in your decanter. Get this done and you should kiss goodbye to that rancid, eggy smell.
Warming Up Wine
Wine decanters are usually made from glass or crystal and they are elegant statement pieces in their own right.
Nothing sets off a neatly-laid table better than a glimmering decanter. Leave your guests asking themselves which of your wines you’ll be treating them to as food is served.
Now you know all about the different types of wine decanter and why you should bother decanting wine in the first place, how about cleaning up when you’re done?
VII. How Should You Clean a Wine Decanter?
Now, here’s the bad news…
The shape and construction of wine decanters make cleaning them slightly challenging. Also, cleaning agents have an unfortunate habit of sticking to the decanter and impairing any wine you pour in after.
How can you deal with this easily?
Here’s the trick. Just leave heat and water to do all the hard work for you. Soak the decanter after use in warm water. If the stains are particularly bad, use slightly hotter water. The first soak should loosen the majority of stains. Rinsing with warm water should see off any residual staining.
Cleaning beads can work well if you need to scour any stubborn stains. These tiny stainless steel balls swirl around inside the decanter and scrape away stains.
A few words now on decanting aged wines…
VIII. Do All Old Wines Need Decanting?
If the first taste seems promising, you might not need to decant the wine. Try pouring directly in the glass from the bottle. Alternatively, choose a narrow-based carafe so there’s less chance for the air and wine to mix further.
Not all old wines respond the same to decanting. A delicate Burgundy can be spoiled by decanting, for example. Barolos and other Nebbiolo-based wines typically respond well to decanting.
Madeira, by contrast, needs at least one day for each decade of life. When Madeira has been in the bottle for some time, you should decant for at least a few days, and possibly up to a few weeks. It takes this amount of time for the wine to normalize to an environment with much more oxygen.
Now, to round out today, we’ve got some general tips of decanting wine to help things run more smoothly.
IX. Wine Decanting Tips
- As a rule, the younger the one and the more tannin it contains, the longer you need to decant it for
- If you encounter a closed red wine, double-decanting will fix this. All you need to do is pour the wine back into the bottle before decanting it for a second time
- While a wine aerator is fast, effective, and efficient, this method is inadvisable for any aged wines
- Do you have a cheap red wine? How about a particularly bold red? Well, either of these respond especially well to aerating in a blender. This can improve both flavor and aroma
- Using a light source as you pour can help you to identify sediment that would otherwise have ended up in the glass and spoiled the drink
- If you frequently drink aged reds and you find the issue of sediment remains despite your best efforts at decanting, you could use a stainless steel filter to prevent those particles making their way into the glass
- Never warm wine once it’s been decanted. Wine is hyper-sensitive to temperature
- The majority of red wines will only last for 12 to 18 hours once they’ve been decanted
- Decanting a wine is final. The process cannot be reversed
- Almost all red wines taste better when decanted
- The same applies to cheap wines. While they might not be magically rendered vintage quality, you’ll certainly notice a slight improvement with minimum effort required to achieve it
- The best way to determine when your decanted wine is ready to pour is to experiment. Taste it and see how you feel. You should record timings so decanting becomes gradually more seamless and you have the process dialed in completely
- If you notice very little trace of fruit or too much tannin, the wine is closed. The same is true if you find it tough to identify any aromas at all. In this case, decanting is essential and it will get the wine back into great drinking shape in very little time. Start by leaving it for 30 minutes then taste. Leave for longer if required
- Before you even think about decanting your wine, you should, of course, pay proper attention to storage. Built-in coolers or small wine coolers work well in cramped kitchens and apartments. If, however, you have a collection of red and white that you drink on a regular basis, there’s no substitute for a dual-zone wine cooler. This will allow you to keep mixed wines at different temperatures ready for decanting before drinking. Get both these elements right and your guests will be asking you why your wine is tasting so good!
Well, we trust that by now you’re fully informed on all aspects of decanting wine.
The method you use will depend largely on the wine you’re drinking. Follow the guidance we’ve laid down today and you’ll start enjoying your wine even more. Decant and you’ll eliminate all that sediment while also getting rid of any lingering smells in reduced wine.
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