Why We Decant Wine

Do you have a wine decanter and how often do you use it? Do you believe that decanting wine makes a difference? Why are some wines decanted and others not?

What is decanting?

Decanting wine is essentially the process of pouring (decanting) the contents from one vessel (typically a bottle) into another vessel (typically a decanter). Usually the wine is then served from the decanter, but sometimes in a restaurant it is decanted back into the original bottle for service.

Why decant wine?

Not every wine needs decanting. Many of us associate decanting with older vintage port wines or aged wines that throw off a lot of sediment as they age. Decanting separates the wine from the sediment, which not only would not look nice in your glass, but would also make the wine taste more astringent. Slowly and carefully decanting the wine ensures that the sediment stays in the bottle and you get a nice clear wine in the decanter, and subsequently in your glass.

A second and more everyday reason to decant is to aerate the wine. Many young wines can be tight or closed on the nose or palate. As the wine is slowly poured from the bottle to the decanter it takes in oxygen, which helps open up the aromas and flavors. Highly tannic and full-bodied wines benefit most from this – wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet blends, Syrah, and Syrah blends.

Opponents of decanting for aeration purposes argue that swirling the wine in your glass has exactly the same effect and suggest that decanting can expose the wine to too much oxygen, leading to oxidation and dissipation of aromas and flavor – which is what you don’t want to happen. That can possibly happen when you are decanting a very old red wine, which is already very delicate and needs minimal oxygen exposure before drinking, or you decant the wine hours and hours before you plan on drinking it.

Advantages of Decanting

  • Makes wine smother
  • Makes wines less acidic
  • Lowers tannins
  • Makes new world wines which are higher in alcohol easier to drink
  • Removes sediment from heavier wines such as Rioja

Decanting white wine – yes or no?

Most people probably don’t think about decanting white wine. However, there are quite a few white wines that can really benefit from it, particularly higher-end wines that can age, as these can sometimes taste a bit awkward or gangly when first poured from the bottle. Decanting helps the wine to open up. On the other hand most everyday young whites do not need decanting.

And what about decanting Champagne or sparkling wines?

The conclusion is that fewer people would ever consider decanting Champagne or sparkling wine. What about the bubbles? Would they just dissipate? Decanting Champagne has become increasingly the trendy ‘thing’ to do – especially older vintage champagnes, which are more about evolved complex aromas and flavors than a lively youthful mousse. Renowned wine glass producer Riedel even has a special decanter for Champagne. As Champagnes and sparking wines age, the mousse becomes more gentle on the palate and is less the dominant sensation. Additionally, some people find the bubbles in some young Champagnes too aggressive. Decanting softens the intensity of the bubbles.

However, for many people Champagne and sparkling wine are inextricably tied to that very sensation of bubbles, and any act that might reduce their liveliness is considered a heresy! To each his own.

In the end apart from decanting to remove sediment it is really about personal preferences. It is fun to experiment decanting all sorts of wines to see what happens – some you will like better and other not. And that is part of the pleasure.

Types of Wine Decanters

Wine decanters come in a number of shapes, many of them designed for aesthetics as much as function. But one of the main features that relates to use is the neck of the decanter.

Wide Neck Decanters

If your main goal is aeration, then wide neck decanters are recommended. They allow more oxygen in, so the wine aerates faster and more effectively. They’re also easier to clean than thin neck versions. Wide neck decanters are the most popular type and will work well for most wine drinkers.

Thin Neck Decanters

Thin neck decanters aren’t quite as good for aeration, since the thin neck lets less air in. They can also be a real pain to clean. You usually have to buy a special brush and cleaning beads to be able to give them a good cleaning. But, they’re very useful for separating the wine out from the sediment.

When using a thin neck decanter, you want to pour your wine in slowly and gently with a light source nearby, watching the bottle as you go so you can spot any sediment and stop pouring when you see it to keep it from getting through.This is a more complicated process than simply pouring it in for aeration and one that’s not necessary for most wines, but important for expensive wines that have been aged. For the serious wine collector that wants to make sure that expensive bottle tastes just right and doesn’t include any sediment, a thin-necked decanter is a smart investment.

Quick Guide of How to Use a Decanter

  • Once you have chosen your wine and have your decanter ready, with great care not to shake the bottle, remove the cork from the wine.
  • Remembering that older wines have sediment at the bottom, pour the wine slowly into the decanter. If you are dealing with an old wine, handle it with great care. When transporting it, always hold it so that you don’t tip it out of the position that it was stored in. When you are ready to pour, tip the bottle very gently so as not to disturb the sediment
  • When it comes to younger wines and fuller wines, they need more decanting, so as you pour, make sure the wine is getting plenty of air. You can do this by pouring it from slightly higher up or in a way that causes it to slosh around a little more as it goes into the decanter. Younger wines usually do not contain any sediment so the bottle can be completely emptied into the decanter.
  • Always pour wine slowly into a decanter
  • Watch the neck of the decanter until you see sediment start coming through. Expert decanters use a candle so that they can see more clearly inside the bottle
  • As soon as you see sediment, stop pouring
  • Leave the wine in the decanter for between 30 minutes and 2 hours, depending on the type and age, before gently pouring into your glasses and consuming
  • Clean your decanter as soon as possible after use. Rinse it with hot water and soap or use special brush for cleaning decanters.