Decanting Wine: When and Why to Decant Wine

updated Jun 5, 2019
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Do you have a wine decanter and how often do you use it? Do you believe that decanting wine makes a difference? Why are some wines decanted and others not?

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Personally I love wine decanters and over the years have amassed quite a few. My collection includes one or two special ones that were wedding gifts, but for the most part my collection comprises simple, inexpensive, everyday decanters. I keep one permanently on the kitchen counter, so that it is always readily on hand.

What is decanting?
Decanting wine is essentially the process of pouring (decanting) the contents from one vessel (typically a bottle) into another vessel (typically a decanter). Usually the wine is then served from the decanter, but sometimes in a restaurant it is decanted back into the original bottle for service.

Why decant wine?
Not every wine needs decanting. Many of us associate decanting with older vintage port wines or aged Bordeaux – wines that throw off a lot of sediment as they age. Decanting separates the wine from the sediment, which not only would not look nice in your glass, but would also make the wine taste more astringent. Slowly and carefully decanting the wine ensures that the sediment stays in the bottle and you get a nice clear wine in the decanter, and subsequently in your glass.

A second and more everyday reason to decant is to aerate the wine. Many young wines can be tight or closed on the nose or palate. As the wine is slowly poured from the bottle to the decanter it takes in oxygen, which helps open up the aromas and flavors. Highly tannic and full-bodied wines benefit most from this – wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet blends, Syrah, and Syrah blends.

Opponents of decanting for aeration purposes argue that swirling the wine in your glass has exactly the same effect and suggest that decanting can expose the wine to too much oxygen, leading to oxidation and dissipation of aromas and flavor – which is what you don’t want to happen. Personally I disagree with this view, unless you are decanting a very old red Burgundy wine, which is already very delicate and needs minimal oxygen exposure before drinking, or you decant the wine hours and hours before you plan on drinking it.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Decanting white wine – yes or no?
Most people probably don’t think about decanting white wine. However, there are quite a few white wines that can really benefit from it, particularly higher-end wines that can age, as these can sometimes taste a bit awkward or gangly when first poured from the bottle. Decanting helps the wine to open up. On the other hand most everyday young whites do not need decanting.

And what about decanting Champagne or sparkling wines?
I imagine that fewer of you would ever consider decanting Champagne or sparkling wine. What about the bubbles? Would they just dissipate? Decanting Champagne has become increasingly the trendy ‘thing’ to do – especially older vintage champagnes, which are more about evolved complex aromas and flavors than a lively youthful mousse. Renowned wine glass producer Riedel even has a special decanter for Champagne. As Champagnes and sparking wines age, the mousse becomes more gentle on the palate and is less the dominant sensation. Additionally, some people find the bubbles in some young Champagnes too aggressive. Decanting softens the intensity of the bubbles.

However, for many people Champagne and sparkling wine are inextricably tied to that very sensation of bubbles, and any act that might reduce their liveliness is considered a heresy! To each his own.

In the end apart from decanting to remove sediment it is really about personal preferences. Rather than taking it too seriously I think it is fun to experiment with decanting all sorts of wines to see what happens – some you will like better and other not. And that is part of the pleasure.

For me, a decanting advocate, there is always something subliminally special about pouring wine from a decanter.

Some modestly priced decanters that work just fine in my opinion include:

• Crate and Barrel decanters and carafes – many priced under $20
• Riedel Merlot Decanter, 34.5 ozs – $25 (my go-to small decanter)
• Ravenscroft crystal Infinity Decanter – $44
• WMF Easy Pour Decanter – $25
• Vivid Wine Decanter from Wine Enthusiast – $40
• Wine Enthusiast U Wine Decanter, $20
• Cascade Decanter – on sale at Wine Enthusiast for $30

Would love to hear the views of our readers on the matter.

Until next week enjoy!

Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.

(Images: Mary Gorman)