How Do You Properly Decant Wine?

Do you understand when and why to decant wine? It is a common and important practice for most fine wines, especially red wines although there is a growing trend for decanting white wines too. When we decant our wines, our ultimate goal is to aerate the wine and separate the liquid from any sediment that has settled at the bottom of the bottle and thus bring out the very best taste sensation possible from that vintage at that moment, but do you have the right tools for the job?

Learning to decant a bottle of wine properly can help enhance the overall flavour and avoid any unwanted textures from slipping into our freshly poured glass. So, exactly when, why and how do you decant a bottle of wine properly?

Reasons to Decant Wine

There are very valid reasons to learn how and when to decant a bottle of wine. Doing so can help you pour the perfect glass every time (plus, it’s a fun party trick to show your guests how wine can evolve simply through aeration). However, the three main reasons to decant your wine are to separate the sediment from the wine itself, as I stated above, to remove any debris, such as pieces from a broken cork, and to enhance the flavour and aromas of the wine (or potentially blow off any reductive aromas in white wines).

Separating Sediment

Wine decanting is primarily concerned with separating sediments from the wine that will have gathered in the bottom of the bottle. Older wines and vintage ports contain the most sediment, while young white wines contain the least. It's imperative to note that sediment is not harmful and does not prove any signs of spoilage to your wine (nor quality!). In fact, sediment plays a very important role in your sitting wine; it just does not taste pleasant on the tongue or feel smooth on the mouthfeel, so removing sediment is really necessary. 

Sediment occurs during the fermentation process of wine; it is a byproduct made up of organic compounds. The longer you allow a bottle to age, the more sediment will appear at the bottle of the bottle as the wine goes through its natural evolution, it will shed sediment. 

Removing Pieces of Cork

Sometimes when we open a bottle of wine, the cork breaks, this is especially true of older wines whose corks will be more compromised than newer wines and pieces of the cork can land in the wine itself. There are several reasons for this to occur. It could be that the cork was made poorly, it dried out and got brittle because it wasn't stored properly, or you accidentally snapped the cork when trying to remove it. Whatever the reason, this is obviously no fun, and nobody wants to gulp down wine with bits of cork in it. Fortunately, the decanting process can remove the cork from your wine, ultimately saving it.

Enhancing Flavour and Aroma

Did you know that decanting can also help bring out the best flavors and aromas in your bottled wine? This is because the decanting process introduces aeration. During aeration, oxygen is introduced to a liquid to enhance its flavor by softening the tannins in the wine and emitting gases that have been developed in the deficiency of oxygen. Decanting wine allows the flavours and aromas that were dormant while it was corked to expand and breathe. Decanting can help blow off slightly unpleasant aromas from wine making and enhance the fruit profile of the wine. If you don't like a young red or white wine, decanting it may prove to offer a whole new flavour profile.

Tools You Need to Decant Wine

When it comes to decanting wine, the most popular option is to invest in the good old traditional glass decanter. Decanters are crystal clear to show off the vivid colours of the wine and often resemble something of a glass vase or varying shapes. In addition, wine decanters serve as a container for storing and serving wine, allowing it to breathe. Again, ventilation is crucial to the oxygenation process. Typically, the neck of the wine decanter tapers inward, reducing the volume of the vessel to approximately 0.75 liters or so. Wine decanters commonly have flat bottoms and wide bowls.

However, you can take a few other approaches if you do not have a decanter to hand. Try out some of these:

  • Use a coffee filter to strain the wine into a glass
  • Use a fishbowl or vase; the shape of it allows for oxygenation (just remove Tiddles first…)
  • Very carefully and slowly pour your wine to avoid the sediment from coming out and try to catch it on the lip of the bottle - an oldie but a goodie!

There are also now many new, scientific aeration devices on the market from Vspin to the aeration valves on your Coravin.

Decanting Wine Step-by-Step

Now for the fun part. Follow the steps below to effectively and properly decant your wine:

  1. It is recommended that you remove your bottle of wine from storage and let it sit upright for a full day before decanting. This will allow the sediment to settle at the bottom of the bottle.
  2. With the help of a corkscrew, you can open your bottle of wine.
  3. The neck of the bottle should be tilted toward the decanter as you pour to prevent the wine from flowing out of the bottle and disturbing the sediment, keep the bottom of the bottle below 45 degrees.
  4. Pour the wine steadily into the decanter. Shine a light on the wine to find any sediment approaching the opening.
  5. In the event that sediment approaches the bottle's neck, stop decanting. Start again after tilting the bottle back upright.

Note: It is advisable to decant the wine up anywhere from an hour to six hours before consumption and will depend on the grape varietal, production methods and age of the wine. 

Which Wines Most Often Need Decanting?

There is no rule as to which wines should and should not be decanted. All wines can benefit from the aeration process that comes with decanting. However, there are some highly wines that you'd be mad not to introduce to the decanter straight away on opening

  • Young wines of any serious quality will benefit from maturation but those who like to drink their wine early should invest in a young wine decanter. This are very bulbous at the bottom giving plenty of air to the wine.
  • Fine older wines with six years plus on the clock will have thrown sediment, those whose more fragile flavours need some aeration but not much would be better with a slimline, mature wine decanter.
  • Any wine where you detect a slight hint of a fault will benefit from some time in the decanter where the aromas will have a chance to settle.
  • Wines whose bold structure and tannins are preventing the showing of fruit will benefit from hours in the decanter.

Generally, you are going to want to decant any wine where the sediment is clearly visible on the bottom of the bottle. However, you may also choose to decant a wine for presentation or service purposes too!

Decanter Vs a Carafe—what is the difference?

Carafes were traditionally used to hold liquids, such as water, wine, fruit juice, or alcoholic beverages. The shape of a container does not affect its attributes or the taste of the liquid it's carrying. Today, carafes are more commonly used to serve water and juices. Usually, these decorative pieces add a more elegant look to the table setting since they are more eye-catching in nature.

It is more common to use a carafe on an everyday basis than it is to use a decanter on a more frequent basis. A carafe has a long body and a small base for accommodating a large amount of liquid. Because of this, they do not take up as much table space. Also, when you serve wine in a carafe, it typically involves whites or roses. This is because white wines and roses often need less room to "breathe" than a bottle of red wine.

Do I really need a decanter?

Do you really like wine? If the answer is yes; the answer is YES! You can get so much more from even an average bottle of wine by adequately decanting it. If you want some help on which decanter would be right for the kinds of wines you regularly drink please ask us an expert in the live chat or give us a call.

Sarah newton

Author - Sarah Newton

Sarah Newton has worked in the wine industry for two decades holding senior positions at some of the UK wine industry's leading brands. The MD of Coolersomm, Sarah is WSET certified and our lead wine buyer too.