Wine Essentials

How to Decant Wine

Learn everything you need to know about decanting wine.

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Decanters come in all shapes and sizes

To decant or not to decant a bottle of wine: That is the question. In the most simple terms, decanting wine exposes it to oxygen, also called aeration or letting the wine breathe, and prevents the sediment in a bottle from ending up in the wine in your glass. 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. Pouring the wine into the decanter slowly keeps the sediment in the bottle so it doesn’t wind up 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 have high tannin levels. Opening a bottle to let it breathe is useless and is not a substitute for decanting a full-bodied red wine. Wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz/Syrah, Malbec, and Burgundy can all benefit from being decanted. After decanting, tannins become smoother, and aromas and flavors become more developed. 

Plus, decanting wine is pretty, so you can decant nearly anything you’re drinking — even white wines — 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 upright 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 heavy sediment, which is common with full-bodied red wines, a decanting basket is recommended. Sommeliers frequently use these in three-Michelin-starred restaurants with excellent wine programs. Gently place the wine in the decanting basket, keeping it in a horizontal position as you transfer it from storage to the basket. 

Decanting is more than just slowly pouring wine from the bottle into a carafe. First, cut and remove the foil capsule, and clean the neck and shoulder of the bottle. Then, remove the cork and wipe the neck and inside of the bottle. Pick up the decanting basket and hold the bottle over a light so you can see the deposit. Pour the wine slowly, watching out for sediment in the shoulder — the sloping part of the bottle — and stop before reaching the neck. Yes, this will be before you reach the bottom of the bottle, and you’ll leave some wine in the bottle, but it will not be wine you want to drink. You can discard the remaining wine. 

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. Once the wine has been poured into a decanter, let it sit out on the counter or in your wine cellar. Keep it away from heat and direct sunlight. 

How Long to Decant Wine

When it comes to oxygen exposure and wine, too much is a bad thing. We recommend that you open a bottle of wine that is more than 10 years old no more than 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. The shapes and sizes aren’t just for show; they serve an important role in decanting wine. We decant older wines primarily to remove the sediment. They don’t actually need more oxygen exposure. A smaller, narrow shape is best for an older vintage because it exposes less surface area to oxygen. For younger, more powerful wines, a larger bowl that allows more oxygen contact is better because the goal is aeration. 

Our favorite decanters, 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 or a magnum, 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 inside 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 it. These beads roll around inside the decanter and remove stains. 

Dry the outside of your decanter with a lint-free cloth — we are partial to Riedel’s — and let the inside dry naturally. You can use a decanter stand to speed up the process. 

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