There's something about decanting wine that just makes it taste better. But what is decanting, exactly? And why do you need to do it? In this blog post, we'll answer all of your questions about decanting wine. We'll discuss what decanting is, what purpose decanting serves, and when you should do it.
What does "decanting" wine mean?
Decanting wine means pouring it from the bottle into another container, such as a wine decanter, carafe, or another glass vessel. If you've ever ordered red wine in a fancy restaurant, as part of the wine service you may have seen your waiter or sommelier pour the wine into a decanter before serving it to you in wine glasses.
Why decant wine?
There are three main reasons for decanting wine; to aerate it (aka "let it breathe"), especially for older vintages, to separate the wine from all the sediment it may have accumulated (for various reasons) at the bottom of the bottle, and to simply decant the wine for presentation.
Decanting wine to let the wine breathe
One of the most common reasons to decant wine is to aerate it, or "let it breathe". When wine is exposed to oxygen, it can soften and open up, revealing more complex flavour profiles that may be hidden when the wine is first uncorked. This is especially true for older, aged full-bodied red wines, which often benefit from being decanted for an hour or so before being served. Note that older lighter-bodied red wines can actually be damaged by decanting, as it could cause them to oxidise prematurely, meaning they start to taste bitter, like over-stewed fruit.
Younger red wine can also benefit from decanting if they're quite full-bodied or highly tannic. The process of decanting softens up the tannins, making the wine more smooth and drinkable. Most of our wines at Feravina are considered young wines, with vintages from 2019 onward, and because they are natural with minimal preservatives, are ready for drinking close to bottling. Therefore the only wines we'd recommend decanting unless you're doing it for aesthetic purposes (which we totally encourage to make a wine experience even more enjoyable), would be more full-bodied reds like our Hochkirch Syrah, Villard l'Appel des Sereines, Akutain Rioja, and Le Roc des Anges.
White wines as a rule don't benefit from decanting in this way, with one key exception. If a white wine has reductive traits, decanting it could help. Reduction in wine can happen if it's exposed to insufficient oxygen during the winemaking process for certain varieties. This presents itself as a slightly musty cabbage smell in the wine. Pouring such a white wine (or a red wine with similar problems) into a decanter, and swirling it around to give it extra air, can often make these unpleasant reductive flavours dissipate, or "blow off" as it's referred to in the wine trade.
Decanting wine to separate the wine from its sediment
As red wine ages, some of the pigments and tannin present in the wine can engage in certain slow-moving chemical reactions which cause the resulting compounds to precipitate out of the wine, causing dark-coloured sediment to form which sinks to the bottom of the bottle (or the side of the bottle if stored lying down). If the wine is uncorked and poured, the sediment will mix into the wine and find its way to your glass, leading to a bit of an unpleasant experience, since the sediment is gritty and usually a bit bitter too.
The solution is to pour the wine into a decanter first while watching for the sediment. In a fine-dining restaurant setting, this is usually achieved by positioning a lit candle underneath the neck of the bottle as the wine is gently poured into the decanter, so the sommelier can stop pouring once they see sediment appear in the neck.
An easier way to stop the sediment is to simply pour the wine into the decanter through a cheesecloth, which will be fine enough to catch almost all of the sediment.
Sediment is not poisonous, but it is unpleasant, so it's worth avoiding if possible. Generally speaking, young wines shouldn't have this issue.
Decanting wine for presentation
Finally, sometimes we decant wines because it's fancy and elevates the whole wine-drinking experience, especially when you watch your wine being poured from a beautiful crystal decanter into your wine glass. Decanted wine for just this reason is still worth it in our opinion, especially if you're a wine enthusiast!
Does a wine decanter make a difference?
Absolutely. What happens when wine is decanted is it releases aromatic compounds to enhance the wine's flavour, giving a stuffy bottle of wine a new lease on life by the decanter working as a wine aerator to breathe life (or oxygen) into the wine. Old red wines and full-bodied red wines are probably the ones that benefit most from decanting.
What wines need to be decanted?
The wines that need to be decanted include older wines with age on them, particularly more tannic full-bodied red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. Lighter-bodied red wines like Pinot Noir don't need to be decanted, and in fact, over-decanting of these wines can start the oxidation process prematurely.
Vintage ports are also best decanted just like fuller-bodied red wines assuming they are old (10+ years from vintage). Younger vintage ports don't really benefit much from decanting.
There is no need to decant sparkling wines or rosé wines, because their aromas will generally be quite prominent without any air. Decanting a sparkling wine will make it lose its precious bubbles, though if a sparkling wine hasn't been disgorged (meaning it still has yeast sediment in it as is common with some Pet-Nat) slowly pouring it into a carafe so that only the clear wine is drunk can be more aesthetically pleasing. You'll just have to drink it fairly quickly to enjoy it at its carbonated best!
Sometimes wine professionals will do double decanting, which involves rinsing out the original bottle to get rid of the sediment and pouring the wine back into it. This is done so the label of a fancy wine can be seen as the wine is poured.
Shock decanting is also done for highly tannic wines without sediment. This is where the wine is poured vigorously instead of pouring it into the decanter slowly, to speed up the softening of said tannins.
How long should wine be decanted?
Most wines should be decanted for about 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the bottle age and the style of wine. Once a wine has been decanted, it is best to drink it right away and avoid pouring it back into its original bottle for drinking later. Light-bodied red wines, if decanted at all, can easily become over-decanted, so drinking them sooner is better than later.
How to pour decanted wine
Most sediment will sit at the bottom of the bottle (if we first kept the bottle upright), however, the way you decant may move some of the sediment, and risk getting it into the decanter. The trick to wine decanting is to remember that when pouring the wine into a decanter, start pouring slowly so as to avoid pouring the sediment, if there is any, into the decanter. Looking through the neck of the bottle with the help of a candle, or even the torch on your phone might be helpful here.
Once the wine is in the decanter, hold the decanter with both hands, and pour the wine gently as you would from a jug, careful to wipe away the drop of wine that will run down the decanter after you poured a glass.
Types of wine decanters - and what to look for in a wine decanter
When looking to buy a wine decanter, there are a few things to consider. First is that it has an easy pour neck. There are many beautiful glass vessels that may look the part but are impractical to hold, pour and clean. A decanter that is simple yet elegant in style, easy to hold and pour from, is your best bet. Some reliable brands to look out for are Riedel, Schott Zwiesel, and Plumm (if you want to support local), but as a rule of thumb, any producer making good wine glasses will typically make good decanters too.
If you don't want to invest in this, as some glass decanters can get expensive, simply using a jug will do.
The final word on decanting wine
So there you have it, everything you need to know about decanting wine. The main things to remember are that not all wines benefit from decanting, and you should be careful not to overdo it, as decanting can cause younger wines to oxidise and spoil their flavour. Decanting aged wine, especially red tannic wines, but sometimes white wine, is best to decant as well. Other than that, have fun experimenting and finding out which wines you like best when decanted. And don't forget to enjoy that extra bit of leftover wine in the bottle after you've decanted too!