To decant or not to decant, that is the question when it comes to wine. In the most simple terms, decanting wine exposes it to oxygen, also called aeration and letting the wine breathe. When wine is in a bottle, only a very small amount of it is exposed to oxygen. In a wide vessel like a decanter, much more of the wine is exposed to oxygen. Exposure to oxygen softens tannins in red wine and helps aromas develop. If poured correctly, decanting wine also keeps the sediment in the bottle, not in your glass. Our guide to how to decant wine will tell you everything you need to know, including when you should decant wine, which wines need to be decanted, the best wine decanters, and how to clean a wine decanter.
Which Wines Need to Be Decanted?
It’s recommended that you decant red wines that are more than 10 years old. As certain wines age, they deposit a naturally occurring sediment in the bottom of the bottle, which you don’t want to drink. These wines also benefit from the additional oxygen exposure that decanting wine provides.
Some young wines can also be decanted if they need to open up or if they have high levels of tannin. Opening a bottle to let it breathe is pretty much useless and is not a substitute for decanting. Wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz/Syrah, Malbec, and Burgundy can all benefit from being decanted. After decanting, tannins become smoother and flavors and aromas become more developed.
Plus, decanting wine is pretty, so you can pretty much decant anything you’re drinking if you like the look of it. I wouldn’t recommend decanting Champagne or sparkling wine, but there are proponents of that, too.
How to Decant Wine
First of all, you’ll need to remove the bottle from storage. If you have been storing it properly, it should be on its side. Old wines that have thrown a deposit need to be kept on their side to avoid disturbing the deposit. Please don’t take it out and open it vertically like a normal bottle of wine. You’ll mix the deposit into the wine. If you have planned ahead, you can place the bottle in a vertical position for at least 24 hours so the deposit has time to completely settle on the bottom of the bottle.
If you have a very mature wine with a heavy sediment, a decanting basket is recommended. You’ll frequently see these being used in three-Michelin-starred restaurants with excellent wine programs. First, gently place the wine in the decanting basket. Next, cut and remove the foil capsule, and clean the neck and shoulder of the bottle. Then, remove the cork with a corkscrew, wipe the neck and inside of the bottle. Pick up the decanting basket and hold a light up to the neck and shoulder of the bottle so you can see the deposit. Pour the wine slowly, watching the sediment in the shoulder approaching the neck. Once you see the deposit move up into the shoulder, stop pouring. Yes, you’ll leave some wine in the bottle, but it will not be wine you want to drink.
Young wine needs aeration, or more oxygen. Feel free to be more aggressive, pouring the wine down the sides of the decanter to expose more surface area to oxygen. Some companies also sell aerators you can pour the wine through to supercharge the oxygen exposure. You could also just vigorously swirl it in your glass.
How Long to Decant Wine
When it comes to oxygen exposure and wine, too much is a bad thing. We recommend that you open older wines an hour before you want to drink it. Any more, and the fresher, floral aromas could disappear from “over-decanting.” Younger wines could benefit from more time, up to a few hours.
The Best Wine Decanters
There are many beautiful decanters out there, from fanciful, animal-shaped masterpieces to simple carafes. But our favorites, Riedel wine decanters, are classics for a reason. While beautiful, the more intricate decanters can be a pain to clean, so I don’t use them every day. My favorite decanters are the Amadeo, which is classic and beautiful, or the Ultra, which is easy for everyday wines. Twist 1586 from St Louis is also stunning.
Some of the more incredible decanters are works of art. You could buy several and create a wall of them in your wine cellar. If I had the space, I would buy the Black Tie, Boa, Mamba, and Swan Riedel wine decanters and create a display wall with them.
The majority of decanters are sized for 750ml bottles. If you’re opening multiple bottles, you will need to use multiple decanters, or buy a large-format one.
How to Clean and Dry a Wine Decanter
If you’re not going to clean your wine decanter that night, be sure to at least rinse it out. All you need to clean a wine decanter is a few drops of dish soap and water. Swirl the hot, soapy water around the decanter and gently brush the outside of the decanter in case any wine spilled.
If your decanter has stains, you can use stainless steel beads to clean your decanter. These beads roll around inside the decanter and remove stains.
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