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Everything You Should Know about Decanting Wine

Decanting wine is a technique used to enhance wine's properties by allowing it to breathe and separating any sediment. Properly performing this method positively impacts the natural flavors of wine and creates an enjoyable experience for wine tasters. This comprehensive guide provides the steps to decant wine and explores the different types of wine decanters for everything on your wine list.

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What Is a Decanter?

A decanter is a serving vessel designed to separate sediment and aerate wines. Decanters typically feature a flared base, a narrow neck for pouring, and a flat or slanted top. Wine is usually poured into a decanter from the original bottle and served after varying amounts of time, depending on the type of wine and individual preferences.

Wine Decanter Purpose

Man wearing plaid shirt pouring red wine into a wine glass from a glass decanter

The decanting process has a different effect on each wine type. For some, it softens the acidity to produce a smoother taste. Others carry extra sediment, so it ensures that the appearance is appealing to wine lovers. Wine decanters also create an enticing wine presentation at wine tastings, upscale bars, vineyards, or high-end restaurants. Here's what you can expect from your wine after decanting it.

  • Young red wine: Because young wine has not been gradually exposed to oxygen over time, its tannins may still be quite harsh. Exposure to oxygen in a wine decanter softens the tannins and opens up underlying aromas to create a smoother, more flavorful sip.
  • Old red wine: Older wine is more likely to have accumulated sediment over time. A wine decanter helps separate sediment from the rest of the wine to prevent a bitter, acidic taste or an unsightly appearance.
  • White and rose: Richer whites and roses can benefit from brief decanting to soften their acidity and open up their aromatics.
  • Natural wine: Natural wines are more likely to suffer from volatile acidity upon immediate opening, so wine owners decant it to help round out the acidity for a smoother taste.
  • Champagne and sparkling wine: Decanting these wine types can help reduce the carbonation to an enjoyable level so your guests have a better flavor experience. However, some customers enjoy bubbles in their wines, so learn more about your guests' preferences before starting the decanting process.

How to Decant Wine

Man in black suit pouring red wine into a glass decanter from an open bottle of wine

Decanting wine is a simple process that requires careful attention to detail. Follow these steps to decant wine before serving it.

  1. Remove the wine bottle's cork and wipe the bottle neck clean.

  2. Hold the neck of the bottle over a light source, such as a candle or flashlight. A candle reveals the sediment, warning you to stop pouring before the rest of it goes into the decanter.

  3. Pour the wine slowly from the bottle into your decanter at a slight angle so it doesn't splash in the bottom of the decanter.

  4. When the sediment reaches the neck of the bottle, stop pouring.

  5. The clear wine in the decanter is now ready to serve or rest momentarily while decanting. Discard the remaining sediment and liquid from the bottle, and pour the wine from the decanter into your guests' wine glasses.

How Long to Decant Wine

There's no exact timeframe for decanting wine, so feel free to experiment to see what works for you and your specific type of wine. Begin by opening your bottle of wine and having a sip immediately, then pouring the wine into a decanter and sampling again after 20 minutes. Continue sipping the wine at regular intervals until you have achieved your desired taste. Remember that older wines can quickly become stale, so be careful not to decant your vintage wines for too long.

When to Decant Wine

If you don't know whether or not to decant a wine, smell or taste it right from the bottle. It may taste overly bitter, lack aromas and minimal fruity components, or have an odor like rotten eggs or a struck match due to hydrogen sulfide. In either of these cases, you should decant the wine to aerate it and remove any potential sediment.

Types of Wine Decanters

a medium bowl wine decanter with red wine inside

There are different types of decanters available to accommodate specific types of wine. Various bowl and neck shapes affect the wine flavor by accentuating their natural properties. Check out some popular decanter types sommeliers use in high-end wine venues.

  • Small bowl decanter: A small bowl decanter is ideal for white wine, rose, and light-bodied red wines due to its narrow bowl.
  • Medium bowl decanter: Though a medium bowl decanter has the same neck as a small bowl decanter, the shape is wide in the middle and perfect for medium-bodied red wines.
  • Large bowl decanter: A large bowl decanter is characterized by a wide, circular bowl that allows full-bodied red wines to breathe properly.
  • Swan decanter: A swan decanter is U-shaped with a broad neck on one end and a narrow pouring neck on the other. It's aesthetically pleasing and allows air to move continuously through the bowl to aerate the wine.
  • Snail-shape decanter: A snail-shape decanter has a tall, circular bowl with an opening in the middle and a long neck, causing it to resemble a snail. It provides sommeliers with a better grip when pouring the wine.
  • Cornetto decanter: Also known as a Cornett decanter, a Cornetto decanter has a slim design that exposes a smaller portion of the wine to air. This feature is ideal for fragile wines, including older wines that might be impacted by high oxygen exposure.
  • Bell-shaped decanter: A bell-shaped decanter has a long neck, a bell-shaped bowl, and a punt that helps collect sediment from the wine.
  • Duck decanter: Most decanters are considered functional before beautiful, but the primary purpose of a duck decanter is its aesthetic appeal. It features a clear bowl that maximizes flavor, an overarching handle, and an off-set spout to give it the appearance of a waddling duck.
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