For any wine drinker who has visited a cellar door event, hosted a wine-tasting evening or has friends who appreciate good wine, the term ‘decanting wine’ won’t be new. Decanting wine has been around for thousands of years to allow drinkers to enjoy the taste and aromas of the wine entirely.
Historically, wine was decanted into vessels of gold and silver before introducing glass decanters to ensure the wine could breathe once released from the bottle, leaving the sediment undisturbed at the bottom.
Why is decanting wine important?
With all the careful work that goes into making wine, wine lovers want to enjoy it at its best, and decanting wine can help you do just that.
Releasing the wine from its bottle into a decanter exposes it to more oxygen, allowing it to aerate and soften its tannins while enhancing its flavour. When wine is aerated before drinking, hidden, deeper aromas and flavours are released, and red wine will taste fruitier and smoother.
A second advantage of decanting wine is separating the sediment from the wine and reducing the sediment that reaches your glass. In particular, separating the sediment can vastly improve vintage wines that can, over time, build up and negatively affect the wine’s taste. Decanting the wine is important for enjoying vintage wine at its best.
In the event of a cork breaking, pieces of cork can disperse into the wine and decanting your wine can help separate the pieces from the wine to keep it at its optimum.
Read our wine storage temperature guide.
When should wine be decanted?
Not every style or bottle of wine will benefit from decanting.
However, many bottles do benefit from even a short period of decanting, and most good-quality red wines will be improved by being allowed to breathe before you enjoy them. The key considerations for decanting wine are down to two factors: age and style.
Medium and fuller-bodied red wines such as Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are varieties that greatly improve when the wine is decanted. Lighter red wines, including the popular Pinot Noir and Grenache, can also benefit from being decanted. It’s recommended to decant full-bodied reds between one and two hours before serving, while medium-bodied reds are best decanted 30 to 60 minutes before serving and light-bodied reds only 20 to 30 minutes in advance.
What does full-bodied red wine mean? Find out in our helpful guide.
Decanting some white and rosé wines can also be beneficial, mainly if they are an aged and full-bodied style.
This includes Chardonnay which can open up and release more flavours after being decanted. There is little benefit in decanting many other white or rosé wine varieties, such as Sauvignon Blanc, which is unlikely to be enhanced from decanting. In fact, their fruity and floral flavours could be lost from decanting. If you decant any white or rosé wine, only do so up to 30 minutes before serving, depending on conditions. For example, don’t decant too early if it’s a hot day and you want your white or rosé chilled.
One variety that should never be decanted is Champagne, as it is best served chilled and straight from its bottle. Sparkling wine, in general, doesn’t benefit from decanting as the more air it is exposed to, the more the bubbles that make it sparkling will be reduced. However, if you decide to decant a sparkling wine, only decant up to 30 minutes before serving.
How to decant wine
It’s worth taking a little time and patience when decanting your wine to get it right. Here’s our guide to decanting your wine:
1. Ensure the bottle is upright for at least 24 hours
If you usually store your bottles on their side, it’s worth standing the bottle upright the day before you decant it. Allowing 24 hours before decanting your wine will help all the sediment in the wine settle on the bottom before it’s opened.
2. Open your bottle
Use a corkscrew or unscrew the cap to open your bottle of wine.
3. Angle your bottle below 45 degrees
To prepare for decanting your wine, tilt the bottleneck toward your chosen decanter while keeping the bottle base lower than a 45-degree angle. This angle will allow the wine to pour slowly and not gush, which will help avoid the sediment at the bottom being disturbed.
4. Steadily pour your wine
Once you begin pouring the wine, ensure it is at a steady pace while checking if any sediment has reached the neck of the bottle; doing this near a bright light can help you see any displaced sediment.
5. Stop decanting if you see sediment
If you spot any sediment at the top of the bottle as you pour, pause decanting and tilt it back to its upright position before pouring again.
6. Leave a drop in the bottle
As you nearly finish decanting your wine, be mindful to leave a small amount of wine in the bottle to keep the sediment in the bottle.
Want to sound like a wine pro? Read our bluffer’s guide to wine.
Other methods to decant your wine
You can still decant your wine if you don’t have a wine decanter.
Aerators – sometimes attached to a wine bottle – can be used to decant wine, and it oxygenates the wine as it’s poured. You can also use any glass vessel to decant wine, as long as it is larger (ideally wider) than the wine bottle.
If this has inspired you to enhance your wine-drinking experience by decanting certain styles of wine, try experimenting with some of your favourite bottles.
RedHeads produce several red wine blends that could taste even more delicious when decanted. If you love our March of Progress Shiraz, for your next bottle, decant up to two hours before drinking and see if you can pick out some hidden flavours you’ve previously not discovered.