Decanting wine – that is, pouring it from one receptacle to another – has been practiced for thousands of years, for as long as people have been drinking wine. Primarily, it serves two functions. Firstly, to stop naturally-occurring sediment from reaching your glass, and secondly, to help the wine aerate and ‘open up’ before it’s drunk. Nowadays, with the advent of such beautiful and curiously shaped decanters, the process has an aesthetic purpose, too.
Simply pouring wine from its original bottle into a decanter does most of the work instantly, but there’s more to the process than that. Wines will benefit differently from being decanted at different points of time prior to drinking – in other words, some wines can be drunk sooner than others. Here’s a handy guide.
Five steps to decanting a bottle of wine
- Ideally, stand your bottle upright 24 hours before you plan to drink it – this helps any sediment settle at the bottom.
- Pour the wine slowly and steadily into the decanter – having a light source behind the bottle will help you see any sediment.
- Once the bottle has been emptied halfway, start pouring even slower.
- Stop pouring as soon as you see any sediment reach the neck of the bottle – the remaining liquid can be discarded.
- Leave the decanted wine to sit for the appropriate period of time (below), then enjoy!
All red wines benefit from decanting, which helps them to taste fruitier and smoother. As a general rule, the higher the level of tannins, the longer the wines should be left to help them balance out.
- Light-bodied wines, such as Pinot Noir and Beaujolais: 20-30 minutes
- Medium-bodied wines, such as Merlot and Cabernet Franc: 30-60 minutes
- Full-bodied wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Syrah: 60 minutes or more
White, rose and sparkling wines
Most whites, roses and sparkling wines actually don’t need to be decanted, and doing so can in some cases cause aromatic compounds to waft away. However, if the wine is showing signs of reduction (excessive sulphur compounds), decanting for about 15 minutes can help remedy the issue.
Choosing the right style of decanter
There’s a plethora of decanter styles out there – different shapes, different materials, different price tags – and in a nutshell, the type you use won’t have much bearing on the wine itself. The process of decanting will work just the same whether you use specialist kit or an old coffee jar, so as with many things, it comes down to personal preference (and budget, as some designer decanters can cost thousands).
That being said, some decanting evangelists maintain that shape can play a minor role in dictating speed and duration. Wines that need longer to decant – full-bodied reds with high tannin – could benefit somewhat from a decanter with a wider base, as this increases the surface area that has contact with oxygen, thereby speeding the process up.
Quick tips to speed up the decanting process
- Help things along by pouring the wine back and forth between two decanters once or twice (or use the original bottle, just be sure to use a funnel to prevent spills).
- Swirl the wine around in the decanter to boost its air/liquid ratio.
Purchase a specially designed wine aerator. There are a number of reliable models on the market, but many wine aficionados swear by the Vinturi wine aerator.