Written by: Tim Edison

Updated: January 4, 2024

How to Decant Wine: A Complete Guide to Wine Decanting

Decanting is a practice that has been around for centuries, often associated with the world of wine but also with liquors like whiskey and cognac. 

In this guide, we break down decanting into simple terms. 

Find out which wines need to be decanted, how to decant wine and how long to do it for.

When you’re finished you’ll know as much about decanting wine as a sommelier.

What is Decanting?

Decanting is the process of pouring wine from its original bottle into a separate container, called a decanter, to allow the wine to breathe and develop its flavors. 

This process serves two main purposes: 

  1. 1
    To separate the wine from any sediment that has formed.
  2. 2
    To aerate the wine, allowing it to “open up” and reveal its true character.

But what is this sediment? And why does some wine like to be aerated? Let's find out.


Why Decant Wine?

Let's dig a bit deeper into the reasons for decanting wine.


Reason #1: Separating Sediment

Over time, especially in the case of older wines, sediment can form at the bottom of the bottle. 

This sediment is harmless but it can negatively affect the texture and taste of the wine if not separated. 

It consists of insoluble bits of grape skin and pulp, as well as dead yeast cells.

Decanting allows you to pour the clear wine into a new container, leaving the sediment behind in the original bottle.

Decanting wine to separate sediment can take a bit of skill and patience as the quality of the job is all down to your steadiness of hand. We'll find out how down below.


Reason #2: Aeration

Aerating the wine exposes it to oxygen, which can help soften tannins, round out flavors, and enhance the aromas. 

This process is particularly beneficial for young, full-bodied red wines, as it allows their complex flavors and characteristics to develop more quickly than they would through simple bottle aging.

But be aware that aeration isn’t always beneficial to a wine and I’ll cover these instances in the next section.


Which Wines Benefit from Decanting?

Exposing a wine to oxygen is not always a good thing so it's important to know the situations when decanting is necessary and when it should be avoided.


Wines to Decant

  • Older wines: As mentioned earlier, older wines (typically 10 years or older) are more likely to have sediment that needs to be separated. Decanting these wines is essential to ensure a smooth, sediment-free wine experience.
  • Young, full-bodied red wines: Young red wines with high tannin levels, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo, or Syrah, can benefit significantly from decanting. The aeration process helps soften the tannins and allows the wine's flavors to open up and develop more fully.


Wines Not to Decant

  • Most white and rosé wines: These wines typically don't require decanting, as they just don't have the same level of tannins as red wines. They have quite delicate aromas that may be lost through excessive aeration.
  • Very old or fragile wines: Wines that are exceptionally old or delicate may become overly oxidized and lose their character if decanted. In these cases, it's best to serve the wine directly from the bottle with care, leaving any sediment undisturbed.


How to Decant Wine

  1. 1
    Choose the right decanter: A good decanter should have a wide base to maximize the surface area of the wine exposed to oxygen. This will ensure that the wine aerates effectively. You can see my decanter of choice in my 'Wine Essentials' guide.
  2. 2
    Allow the wine to rest: Before decanting, let the wine bottle sit upright for a few hours, allowing any sediment to settle at the bottom.
  3. 3
    Remove the foil and cork: Carefully cut the foil around the lip of the bottle and remove the cork, ensuring not to disturb any sediment. Two pronged corkscrews like The Durand are best for removing particularly old and fragile corks.
  4. 4
    Pour the wine into the decanter: With a steady hand, slowly pour the wine into the decanter, keeping an eye on the neck of the bottle for any sediment. A light source, like a candle or flashlight, can help you see any sediment more clearly. Stop pouring once you notice sediment approaching the neck of the bottle.
  5. 5
    Let the wine breathe: Allow the decanted wine to sit for a while, typically 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the wine (see below for decanting times). This will give the wine enough time to aerate and develop its flavors. Some wines may require more time, while others may need less. Trust your instincts and taste the wine periodically to determine when it's ready to be served.
  6. 6
    Serve the wine: Once the wine has reached its optimal flavor and aroma development, it's time to serve and enjoy. Pour the wine into appropriate glassware (check out my favorite glasses here) and savor the enhanced taste and bouquet that decanting has brought forth.


How Long Do You Decant Wine For?

The ideal decanting time can vary depending on the specific wine, its age, and its structure.

Here are some general guidelines for decanting different types of wines:


Medium-Bodied Reds

Examples include Merlot, Grenache, and Sangiovese. These wines typically benefit from around 30 minutes to 1 hour of decanting. This allows enough time for the wine to aerate and develop its flavors without losing its fruitiness or freshness.


Full-Bodied Reds

Examples include Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, and Bordeaux blends. These wines often have more tannins and can benefit from a longer decanting time, ranging from 1 to 3 hours.

Decanting allows the tannins to soften and the complex flavors to develop, resulting in a smoother, more enjoyable wine.


Older Red Wines

Aged red wines, especially those with more than 10 years of age, can be more delicate and require a shorter decanting time, typically around 30 minutes to 1 hour.

The main purpose of decanting older wines is to separate the wine from any sediment that may have formed during aging, rather than to aerate the wine.


Light-Bodied Reds and Whites

Light-bodied red wines, like Pinot Noir and Beaujolais, as well as most white wines, typically don't require decanting.

However, if you feel the wine could benefit from aeration, a brief 15 to 30-minute decant can help open up the flavors and aromas.


Bold, Oaky White Wines

Some full-bodied white wines, such as oaked Chardonnay, can benefit from decanting, especially if they're young.

Decant these wines for 30 minutes to 1 hour to allow the flavors to integrate and the oak influence to mellow.


Orange Wines

Orange wine is essentially white wine made with extended skin contact during fermentation and it can benefit from decanting in certain cases. 

Decanting an orange wine can help to open up its complex flavors and aromas, as well as soften any tannins or astringency that may be present due to the skin contact.

However, not all orange wines need decanting. Lighter, more delicate orange wines might not require decanting, while more robust and structured examples could benefit from some aeration.

If you choose to decant an orange wine, a general guideline would be to decant it for about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

As with any other type of wine, it's a good idea to taste the wine periodically as it decants to determine when it has reached its optimal expression.


Remember that these are just general guidelines, and the optimal decanting time can vary for each specific wine.

It's always a good idea to taste the wine periodically as it decants to determine when it has reached its peak.


Tips for Decanting Wine

  • Temperature matters: Decanting should be done at the appropriate serving temperature for the specific wine you're decanting. This will ensure that the flavors and aromas are at their peak when served.
  • Experiment with timing: Every wine is different, and the optimal decanting time can vary. Don't be afraid to experiment with various decanting durations to find what works best for each wine.
  • Clean your decanter: After each use, clean your decanter thoroughly with warm water and a mild detergent (make sure you rinse really well). This will prevent any residue from previous wines from affecting the taste of your next decanting experience.
  • Consider a wine aerator: If you're short on time, a wine aerator can be a handy tool for quickly aerating wine. These devices attach to the neck of the wine bottle or are handheld, allowing you to pour the wine through the aerator and into the glass, providing instant aeration.


Decanting wine is an essential technique for wine enthusiasts, allowing you to fully appreciate and enjoy your wine to its fullest potential.

By understanding why, when, and how to decant, you'll be able to enhance your wine experience and impress your friends and family with your knowledge and skill.

So, the next time you open a bottle, consider decanting and savor the difference it can make.

Any questions? Leave a comment down below and I'll get back to you promptly!

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About the Author Tim Edison


Tim started Wine Turtle way back in 2015.
These days he contributes to Wine Turtle (and other renowned wine publications) while continuing his wine education.
Tim's wine of the month is the Coates & Seely Reserve Brut NV (from Hampshire, England).



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  1. Thank you for this excellent website about wine. I am learning a lot from it. I have a question about decanting temperature. You recommend decanting at the appropriate serving temperature. Do you put the decanted wine into a refrigerator? How do you get the wine to or maintain the wine at serving temperature while decanting?

    Thanks!
    Rg

    1. Hi Rodney,

      Thanks for your kind words, we appreciate it!

      It really depends on how warm the room is. I think most reds are best served approaching 65 degrees F. But, yes it’s perfectly acceptable to put the decanter on ice or even in the fridge. Another solution is to have the wine chilled slightly ahead of decanting. After a few tries you’ll learn how chilled the wine must be to reqch serving temperature after say an hour of decanting.

      Hope this helps!

      Tim

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