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What Is Decanting Wine? When, How, and Why to Decant Your Wine

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 3 min read

When it comes to a new bottle of wine, there’s one important step between corkage and enjoying a glass: decanting.

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What Is Decanting Wine?

Decanting wine means slowly pouring the wine from its bottle into a different container, without disturbing the sediment at the bottom. Wine is often decanted into a glass vessel with an easy-pour neck. Examples include the swan, cornett, duck, and standard decanters, which come in small, medium, and large sizes.

What Are the Benefits of Decanting Wine?

Decanting has three main benefits:

  1. Decanting separates sediment from liquid. Decanting is first and foremost about separating wine from the sediments that settle at the bottom of the bottle. Red wines contain the most sediment, especially older wines and vintage ports, while young white wines contain the least. Sediment is not harmful, but tastes unpleasant.
  2. Decanting enhances flavor through aeration. Aeration is the process of introducing oxygen to a liquid. This is also called allowing a wine to “breathe.” Aeration enhances a wine’s flavor by softening the tannins and releasing gases that have developed in the absence of oxygen. Decanting wine allows the flavors and aromas that were dormant while bottled to expand and breathe.
  3. Decanting saves wine in the event of a broken cork. Occasionally, a cork may break, dispersing pieces of solid matter you don’t want in your wine glasses. While pouring, the cork will gather near the neck of the bottle as you decant into another vessel (sediment does the same). If the cork disintegrates, use a strainer while decanting to filter out the smaller bits.
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A line of wine glasses with varying colors of wine

Which Wines Do You Need to Decant?

From young wine to old wine, red wine to white wine and even rosés, most types of wine can be decanted. In fact, nearly all wines benefit from decanting for even a few seconds, if only for the aeration. However, young, strong red wines particularly need to be decanted because their tannins are more intense.

Wines that should absolutely be decanted include:

Which Wines Don’t Need Decanting?

The only wines that shouldn’t be decanted are sparkling wines, like Champagne. That’s because sparkling wines thrive most when they have their bounce, which decanting and aeration reduces (similar to how a soda goes flat when left out of the fridge for too long).

How to Decant Wine

Decanting wine requires a light hand and a little patience. Here’s how to do it.

  1. If your bottle of wine has been stored horizontally, remove it from storage and sit it upright for a full day prior to decanting. This allows the sediment to settle at the bottom of the bottle.
  2. Open your new bottle of wine using a corkscrew.
  3. Tilt the neck of the bottle toward the decanter. Keep the bottom of the bottle below an angle of 45 degrees to prevent the wine from gushing forth (and disturbing the sediment).
  4. Pour the wine into the decanter at a steady pace. Look for any sediment that approaches the opening (shining a light or candle can help).
  5. Stop decanting if you see any sediment approaching the neck of the bottle. Tilt the bottle back to upright, then start again.
  6. Finish pouring the wine, leaving about half an ounce in the bottle with the sediment.

Decanting can be done up to four hours before you anticipate drinking the wine. There is little risk of over-decanting most wine; however, try to enjoy or recork the wine within 18 hours.

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What Is the Difference Between a Decanter and a Carafe?

While both wine decanters and carafes are both vessels used with wine, they’re used for different purposes. The shape of glass decanters is designed to aerate your wine, while a carafe is designed solely for serving wine.

How to Serve a Decanted Bottle of Wine

Even though your wine is now in a separate vessel, make sure to keep both the original bottle and cork (or screw top). If you’re serving the wine to guests, display the original bottle and cork alongside your crystal decanter. The label will inform your guests about what they’re drinking, while the cork is useful as a stopper in case you need to pour the wine back into the bottle and save it for later.

Want to Learn More About Wine?

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Flavor, aroma, and structure—Learn from wine master James Suckling as he teaches you to appreciate the stories in every bottle.

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Whether you’re just starting to appreciate the difference between a pinot gris and pinot grigio or you’re an expert at wine pairings, the fine art of wine appreciation requires extensive knowledge and a keen interest in how wine is made. No one knows this better than James Suckling, who has tasted more than 200,000 wines over the past 40 years. In James Suckling’s MasterClass on wine appreciation, one of the world’s most prominent wine critics reveals the best ways to choose, order, and pair wines with confidence.

Want to learn more about the culinary arts? The MasterClass Annual Membership provides exclusive video lessons from master chefs and wine critics, including James Suckling, Chef Thomas Keller, Gordon Ramsay, Massimo Bottura, and more.

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