Guide | How to Decant Wine

Massimo Vignaiolo
November 1, 2023

Hey there, wine enthusiasts! So, picture this: you're all set to enjoy a special moment with a bottle of wine, and then bam! You get hit with the smell of rotten eggs, sulphur, or even burnt phosphorus. Not exactly the aroma you were hoping for, right? Or maybe you're sipping your wine and suddenly, you're greeted with bitter and unpleasant flavours from the sediments. Talk about a buzzkill!

But fear not, my friends, because there's a solution that goes by the name of… decanting. Decanting wine is like a magical art, where you delicately pour wine into a fancy glass decanter, keeping those pesky sediments out of your glass. And guess what? It comes with a bunch of benefits too:

  • Bye-bye Sediment: Decanting stops those sediment particles from messing with your taste buds. No more crunchy surprises in your smooth wine!
Bye-bye Sediment
  • Sayonara Stinky Smells: The oxygen swoops in to rescue you from any unpleasant odours caused by the wine's reduction process. Fresh oxygen to the rescue allows the wine to breathe and open up!
Sayonara Stinky Smells
  • Taming Tannins: Certain wines have a strong tannin taste that can sometimes be a bit overwhelming. But fret not! Introducing oxygen during decanting can help mellow those tannins, making the wine smoother, rounder and more enjoyable.  
Taming Tannins

Just a heads-up: decanting may work wonders to enhance your wine experience, but it won't transform a flawed bottle into liquid perfection. So, if you encounter a corked or flawed bottle of wine, it's time to wave the decanter goodbye and reach for a different bottle instead. Then, depending on where you live, take that bottle to your place of purchase, and ask for your money back. There is a regulatory process that allows for that. That, of course, presumes that you did not guzzle what was in the bottle and that you are bringing a nearly full bottle of wine.

Now, let's dive into the nitty-gritty of this complex-yet-simple art of decanting. We'll cover how to do it like a pro, its awesome benefits, and which wines benefit the most from this decanting magic. So grab your favourite bottle, get ready to pour, and let's dive in!

Wine Decanter Types

Decanting wine is basically the act of transferring the wine from its original bottle to another container, like a fancy decanter, before you serve it up. The trick is to do it carefully so you don't disturb too much sediment at the bottom or transfer it from the bottle to the decanter.

Now, let's talk decanter styles! We've got a bunch to choose from:

  • Standard Decanter: This classic option works great for wine newbies and connoisseurs. It's got a wide base, a nice round shape, and a tall spout. Some even come with an angled spout, making pouring that wine into your glass a breeze.
Standard Decanter
  • Bell-Shaped Decanter: As the name implies, this one looks like a small bell. At its base, it has a punt, which is not only useful for collecting sediment but also for pouring the wine into the glass.
Bell-Shaped Decanter
  • Swan Decanter: This elegant decanter rocks a cool U-shaped design with two spouts. One spout is wider and ideal for transferring wine into the decanter, while the narrower spout works like a charm for pouring that vino into your glass. Plus, the narrow spout's got a handy S-shape, giving you a good grip on the decanter.
Swan Decanter
  • Snail-Shape Decanter: Now, this one's a real head-turner. It's got an opening right in the middle, giving it that unique snail-like shape. With just a single wide opening, you can effortlessly pour your wine into the decanter and later into your glass. It's not just stylish—it's easy to handle too!
Snail-Shape Decanter

When picking out your decanter, one important thing to remember is that you should be able to clean it properly. After all, nobody wants a funky-smelling or stained decanter ruining their wine experience. So, opt for a decanter with a design that allows for easy cleaning. Look for wide openings, removable parts, or decanters made from dishwasher-safe materials. Keeping your decanter squeaky clean will ensure that your wine always shines bright and tastes fantastic. So, when it comes to decanting, choose the style that tickles your fancy and get ready to elevate your wine game. Cheers to that!

Why decant wine?

Here are some reasons why you should decant your wine:

  • Separate Sediment: Decanting helps prevent sediment from ending up in your glass, giving you a smoother and clearer wine-drinking experience.
  • Enhance Aromas: By allowing the wine to come into contact with oxygen, decanting can help open up the aromas and release their full potential, making the wine more fragrant and enticing.
  • Soften Tannins: Certain wines, especially young reds with high tannin levels, can benefit from decanting. The exposure to oxygen during decanting can help mellow and soften those tannins, making the wine less astringent and more enjoyable on the palate.
  • Reduce Unpleasant Odours: Some wines may have undesirable odours, such as sulphur or reduction notes. A wine is reduced when it is not exposed to sufficient oxygen. This generally causes the wine to develop unpleasant odours of sulphur or eggs. It can also cause you to taste less ''lively'' flavours. Decanting allows these odours to dissipate and allows the wine to breathe, resulting in a more pleasant aroma profile.
  • Serve at Optimal Temperature: Transferring the wine to a decanter allows you to control its temperature more effectively. For example, if the wine is too cold, the decanting process can help it warm up slightly, enhancing its flavours and aromas.
  • Remove Small Cork Particles: Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the cork breaks in the opening process. This is more common with older wines as the cork, depending on quality, degrades over time. Unfortunately, this means that small cork particles have passed into the bottle. For this reason, gently decanting the wine will help to remove them.

Remember, decanting is not mandatory for all wines. It may not improve every bottle. However, it’s worth considering for older red wines and certain young wines that may benefit from a little extra aeration.

When to decant wine?

There are two moments when it is especially convenient to decant wines:

  • When you drink older wines, due to the large amount of sediment that tends to accumulate in this type of wine.
  • When the wine has been too long in the bottle without exposure to oxygen to help ''open'' the aromas and flavours.

Alright, let's get real, my wine-loving friends! When should you bust out that trusty decanter and give your vino some serious decanting love? Here's the lowdown:

  • Party Time: You're throwing a fabulous wine soirée and want to impress your pals with the smoothest sips. Decant those fancy reds and let them mingle with the air, unlocking their true flavours and aromas. Your guests will be like, "Whoa, where'd you get this amazing wine?" Tip: If you are dining in a fine restaurant, you can call ahead a day or two before your reservation and let them know what you are planning on drinking. They will ensure that your chosen bottle or bottles of wine are prepared just right for your timely arrival.
Party Time
  • Time Travel Wines: If you've got some older vintages chilling in your collection, they might be carrying some sediment baggage. Decanting is your ticket to a clearer glass, free from those crunchy bits. Say goodbye to grit and hello to a velvety mouthfeel!
Time Travel Wines
  • Young Rebels: So you snagged a bottle of young red wine bursting at the seams with potential, but those tannins are flexing a bit too hard. Fear not, decanting to the rescue! Give those tannins some quality time with oxygen, and watch as they chill out, soften up those rough edges and become your taste buds' new BFF.
Young Rebels
  • Funky Aromas: Ever popped open a bottle and caught a whiff of something funky, like a rotten egg party in your glass? Yikes! Decanting can help kick those stinky odours to the curb and bring out the wine's true, delightful bouquet. So breathe easy and enjoy the aromatic transformation.
Funky Aromas
  • Temperature Tango: Hey, we all know wine has its temperature preferences. If your reds are feeling a bit too chilly, decanting can warm them up just a smidge, making them taste even better. It's like a cozy blanket for your wine, giving you all the cozy feels.
Temperature Tango

Remember, my friends, decanting is all about enhancing your wine experience and having a blast while doing it. Just like why wine tastes better at the winery, decanter enhances both the sensory and the visual experience. So, go ahead, grab that decanter, strike a pose, and let the wine magic unfold.  

How to decant wine?

To decant a wine, follow these simple steps.

  1. Let the wine rest vertically for at least 24 hours, especially if the wine was not stored vertically. Always make sure that all sediment has passed to the bottom of the bottle.
24 hour rest
  1. Open the bottle, and tilt it towards the decanter, keeping the bottom of the bottle low to avoid stirring the sediment.
bottom of the bottle low
  1. Pour the wine slowly but steadily into the decanter, tilting the bottle upright if sediment or other impurities or cork bits begin to reach the neck of the bottle.  
Pour the wine slowly but steadily into the decanter
  1. If it is that kind of a party and you can’t finish the bottle, transfer the wine back to a clean wine bottle, pop a repour and enjoy responsibly later on.  
Transfer the wine back to a clean wine bottle

How to hyper-decant wine?

The hyper-decanting process, created by Nathan Myhrvold, consists of the following steps:

  • Place your wine in a kitchen blender.
  • Turn it on at full power for 30 to 60 seconds. Then, let the wine foam down.
  • Pour into a glass.

However, you should be aware that this method may have some disadvantages:

  • It can eviscerate some of the wine's aromas, making it appear one-dimensional.
  • On the other hand, while it can soften the tannins of certain wines, it can also make them lose their unique character.

How to decant wine without a decanter?

Although the best way to decant a wine is to use a decanter, if you do not have one at home, you can always use very affordable alternatives. Below, we will tell you about 3 of them:

  • Aerator: This device is usually placed in the neck of the bottle and, as its name suggests, is perfect for aerating (introducing oxygen) a wine without using a decanter. However, it is only recommended for young wines with very pronounced tannins, as it will help to soften them. In the case of older wines, it is not advisable to use it, as you cannot visually monitor what is being poured, and a large amount of sediment can cause blockages in some aerators.  
  • Grab the Glasses: You will need two large glasses for this method. First, you will need to pour the wine into one of the glasses, then pass it from one glass to the other 10 to 15 times before pouring it back into the bottle. Make sure you have previously cleaned the bottle of sediment.  
  • Grab a Pitcher or Carafe: This method is similar to the previous one, but instead of using glasses, you will have to use glass jugs. The jugs should have wide mouths, so you will have to perform the process fewer times.
  • Swirl and Wait: Channel your inner wine aficionado and grab your glass. Gently swirl the wine around in your glass to introduce some oxygen. Then, let it sit for a bit, allowing the magic to happen. It's like a mini-decanting session right in your hand. Cheers to patience and improvisation!
  • Embrace the Funnel: Got a clean funnel lying around? Time to put it to good use! Hold your glass steady and pour the wine through the funnel, letting it cascade gently into the glass. This nifty trick adds a touch of flair to your wine-pouring game, and aeration happens effortlessly.  

Remember, when life hands you a wine bottle and no decanter, you get creative and make it work. Whether it's the blender, swirling in your glass, a pitcher, or even a trusty funnel, you've got the power to decant without limits. So go ahead, embrace your inner wine MacGyver and enjoy that beautifully aerated wine. Cheers to ingenuity!

Tip: Always rewash your chosen vessel. Especially dishwashers tend to leave a soapy residue, impacting the wine aroma and flavour profile. The precise reason why somms clean their glasses with a small amount of wine.

For how long to decant wine?

Ah, the age-old question: How long should you let that wine dance with the air before it's ready to be enjoyed? Well, my friend, the answer depends on a few factors, but let's keep it casual and fun:

  • Quick and Quirky: If you're dealing with a young and vibrant red wine, a quick decanting session of around 15 to 30 minutes might do the trick. It's like giving the wine a peppy warm-up before it hits the stage. Then, get ready for some lively flavours!
  • Take It Slow: Now, let's talk about those older and wiser wines, the ones that have been patiently aging in the bottle. These gems often benefit from a more relaxed decanting session. Give them some quality time with oxygen and let them breathe for around 1 to 2 hours. Then, if you got time on your hand, pour 4 glasses of wine, taste one now, one in 1 hour, one in 2 hours and one in 3 hours and observe the wine’s evolution in the glass. Patience pays off, my friend!
  • Feel It Out: Remember, these timeframes are just guidelines. Every wine is unique, and it's all about finding that sweet spot where the wine shines brightest. So, trust your taste buds and go with the flow. Take a sip along the way and see when the flavours and aromas hit that perfect harmony.
  • Experiment and Enjoy: There’s no hard and fast rule here. Decanting is part science, part art, and part personal preference. So, if you're feeling adventurous, decant some of the wine for a shorter time, and leave some for a longer session. Then, compare and contrast the results. It's like a wine-decanting science experiment, and you're the mad scientist!

Ultimately, the goal is to enhance and enjoy your wine experience to the fullest. So, whether you're on the quick side or the slow and steady path, embrace the journey and savour the magic that decanting brings.  

How long does it take to decant wine by type?

Let’s break it down by wine type for some decanting time guidance. The time you should decant a wine will vary depending on the age, style and body of the wine. Remember, these are general recommendations, but feel free to adjust based on your personal taste preferences. Let's dive in, my wine-loving friends:

Red wines

The amount of time you should let a red wine decant will depend very much on its style:

Red wines
  • Young and Fruity Reds: These lively, fruit-forward reds can benefit from a brief decanting of about 15 to 30 minutes. It's like a quick warm-up before they hit your palate with their vibrant flavours.
  • Light-Bodied Reds: If you're dealing with wines like Pinot Noir or Gamay, the best results are obtained by decanting for between 20 and 30 minutes.
  • Medium-Bodied Reds: If you're dealing with wines like Merlot, Cabernet Franc or Sangiovese, give them a bit more time to shine. Aim for around 30 minutes to 1 hour of decanting to allow their complexities to unfold.
  • Full-Bodied Reds and Age-Worthy Wines: Now we're talking big and bold! Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo, or Bordeaux-style blends fall into this category. Give these beauties some serious airtime, with decanting sessions ranging from 1 to 2 hours or even longer. Patience pays off when it comes to these powerhouses.

White and rosé wines

White and rosé wines
  • Light and Crisp Whites: Typically, white wines like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio are enjoyed for their fresh and zesty qualities. These little darlings don't require decanting and are best served straight from the bottle, chilling in all their refreshing glory.
  • Fuller-Bodied Whites: If you've got a Chardonnay or Viognier with a bit more complexity, a quick 15-minute decanting can help open up their aromas and flavours. Give them just enough air to strut their stuff.

Sparkling wines

  • Bubbly Beauties: Decanting isn't the norm when it comes to sparkling wines like Champagne, Cava or Prosecco. These sparklers are ready to party straight from the bottle, with their effervescence and lively character intact. So pop that cork and enjoy the fizz!
  • But… if you still feel that the sparkling wine can benefit from decanting, it is necessary to be especially careful since unnecessary decanting can eliminate the bubbles and ruin the whole experience. You should only decant if you notice aromas of burnt phosphorus in the sparkling wine, a clear sign that the wine is reduced. Decanting for 15 to 20 minutes will suffice if this is the case. It is advisable to use special decanters for this type of wine, which have an amphora shape to preserve the bubbles better.

Other types of wines

Other types of wines

Orange Wines: Due to the fact that these are white wines made with greater skin contact, orange wines can also benefit from decanting to reduce the intensity of the tannins. For this reason, it is advisable to decant these wines between 15 and 60 minutes. But this is not an exact science, and every bottle varies. So sip along the way to see when is the right time.

Natural Wines: It is possible that this type of wine has a reduction, which you will notice due to the presence of a burnt matchstick odour. To eliminate those annoying odours, you can decant it for about 30 minutes.

Very Old Wines: Very old wines are another very particular case and must be treated with great care when it comes to decanting them. This is because older wines tend to be more sensitive to oxygen. For this reason, we do not recommend decanting them for more than 30 minutes. In addition, it is always advisable to consult with your supplier to find out the specific indications for decanting a particular wine.

Final Thougths

Decanting wine is like a superhero power that takes your vino to a whole new level. But hold your horses, my wine-loving amigo, it's not always a must-do. Decanting is an art form, so go with the flow and do it with style. Take a moment to admire those captivating colours and irresistible aromas before diving in for that epic sip. Get ready to elevate your wine game and savour every drop like a total pro. Cheers to decanting adventures and wine wizardry!