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Decanting 101 please

  • v

Should every red wine be decanted or only "big" reds? How do you know which ones benefit the most from decanting? If you pour a glass of wine and leave it in the glass for 30 minutes, does that count as being decanted? I'm trying to understand this, so I'm sorry if I sound clueless. Also, if you order a bottle of red wine at a fine restaurant with your meal, how in the world can it be properly decanted in time for you to drink it? Thanks for some basic guidance here!

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  1. Depending on what you are drinking decanting will open up better wines.

    I get asked this question all the time and really even some bottles under $10 can improve by decanting.

    Experiment with it by pouring a glass and sampling it. Decant and try again in an hour, two, etc. This will help you examine the wine over the course of an evening.

    The other thing to decant in your glass is to swirl it for 30 seconds which should release the aromas of the wine.

    All this is for nothing if you don't smell and properly move the wine around in your mouth and hit all the taste buds.

    5 Replies
    1. re: wineglas

      After an hour or two, won't it be too warm then? I thought red should be served after being chilled for 15 mins. in the fridge.

      1. re: 914NYC

        Depending upon the red wine, I would serve anywhere from 58 to 68 degrees F, ideally. But life is way too short to get caught up in the measuring of degrees like that. Wine is not to stress over. I keep my apartment at around 68 degrees. That is a fine temperature to serve red wine. And if I take it outside in the summer and it gets up to 72 I'm not going to have a seizure.

        1. re: 914NYC

          >>> I thought red should be served after being chilled for 15 mins. in the fridge. <<<

          Wouldn't that depend upon the temperature of the bottle in the first place? Some may only need 10 minutes; other's may need only 5. There are NO absolutes!

          1. re: 914NYC

            Our house is always on the cool side, so this is usually not a problem. Should it seem to be, I just place the decanter into the 'fridge and monitor both its progress and its temp.


          2. re: wineglas

            I too, often decant less expensive wines. Sometimes they reveal more, than I had anticipated. Same reason that I use "good" wine glasses for all, when at home and ask for these at restaurants. Some winemaker put effort, and hopefully heart, into the wine. It deserves the best that I can offer, and maybe will reward me.

            As you suggest, I do a sample glass, and go to it as dinner progresses. Wife hates it, when I declare wine X ready, and that course is not up yet. Hey, so be it.


          3. Wow... it would take days to answer your question, BUT...

            There are many reasons to decant. One is simply to remove sediment from an older wine. One is for aesthetics.

            What I believe you are talking about is decaning for aeration which is why most wines I believe are decanted.

            Seeing the wine evolve in the glass can be a good experience, but I would not call it decanting.

            I rarely start a meal at a fine restaurant with a red, so by the time I get around to it, it has been decanting for at least half an hour and then it continues to decant as the meal progresses.

            But usually I bring my own wine to restaurants and if I think the wine needs some serious decaning I do that at home then pour it back into the bottle and re-cork, then take it to dinner.

            3 Replies
            1. re: whiner

              Okay, I rarely drink port or bordeaux. So, yes, I guess I'm asking more for the aeration reason rather than the sediment reason. Thanks!

              1. re: Val

                Best advice is to search on-line for others' recs. on that wine and try their suggestions. Still, one can tell best, by pouring a glass from the bottle, and then decanting. Taste over time, and see what you think. It is about what you like. Afterall, some do not like a wine that has been aerated and sitting in a decanter for very long. Some do not appreciate an "aged" wine. It's all about one's tastes. All the charts on Earth are meaningless, if one does not appreciate the results.

                Sorry that I cannot be more concrete than this, but in the end, it's all about appreciation of the wine, by those drinking it.


              2. re: whiner

                I usually do not bring my own wines, but the selection for the red, if there is one, has usually been made early on. I too, will ask that it be decanted, or poured early on. We normally begin with a white, or Rosé, as well.

                Plus, we'll often mix-n-match, as the courses come out, so it's not always a progression.


              3. Generally there are two situations where people decant.

                Old wines that have thrown sediment -- aged vintage Port being a prime example -- are gently poured into a decanter, leaving the sediment behind, usually with a small amount of wine. If you don't decant such wines, the first glass poured will be clear but subsequent glasses will be cloudy due to the sediment being stirred up as you tip then straighten the bottle.

                Many wine lovers feel that young, tight, inexpressive wines benefit from decanting, that exposure to air softens them, opens them up, makes them more approachable and expressive. The idea being to maximize the wine's contact with air, the wine is often "splash decanted" (poured vigorously directly into the decanter, not trickling it down the decanter's side) or "doubled decanted" (poured into a decanter and then poured into another decanter or back into the bottle). Letting a wine stand in a glass for 30 minutes is akin to this type of decanting.

                «How do you know which ones benefit the most from decanting?»
                One way is to pour a small glass and taste. If the wine is closed down and ungiving, mouth-puckeringly tannic, youthfully harsh, decant away. Experience will also teach you that certain categories of wine -- especially young structured reds meant for long aging (some of the better Médocs, for example) -- are likely candidates for decanting.

                1. All excellent comments... so you already have a good handle on decanting.

                  Related to your question... it reminded me of something that typically get's a, "I never realized that" and "that makes a lot of sense"type of response.

                  Bottle shape. There's a reason why wine bottles are shaped the way they are. Of course some of it is design/packaging... but mainly it's function.

                  Bordeaux and Ports throw a lot of sediment. This is why these bottles have a pronounced neck with what is referred to as a shoulder. This allows for the sediment to be captured easily when decanting... at the shoulder before it enters the neck.

                  Compare a Bordeaux (Calif Cabernet etc) to a bottle of Burgundy or a Rhone. Those bottles have a gentle continuous slope with no pronounced "neck". This is because these wines throw little sediment... and when they do they are finer and not as objectionable. So, most wine bottles are shaped the way they are for a reason.

                  Then there's the Champagne bottle... that's for another day.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: WineAG

                    Good point, and one that is too often overlooked.


                  2. I don't own a decanter, but I probably should.
                    Decanting sometimes seems to be too violent on wine. Another option is to pull the cork on the bottle and let it breathe for several hours or overnight, depending how young the wine is.
                    Next time you serve two bottles of the same wine, if they're young enough, decant one and pull the cork on the other several hours before serving and see if you can see a difference.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: SteveTimko

                      Pulling the cork the night before is an EXCELLENT suggestion, especially for many of the more delicate wines out there. I don't decant Brunello, but I'm not averse to pulling the cork many many hours before serving...

                      1. re: whiner

                        Just my 2c here. I had someone big into burgundy tell me once that in Burgundy he had been told they absolutely do not decant. The bottle is opened and allowed to breathe inside of it.

                      2. re: SteveTimko

                        A lot of people don't own decanters... actually, any reasonable liquid container will do to get the job done if you are not concerned with appearance, say for a dinner table.

                        I have a few glass water pitchers that I picked up over the years at Crate & Barrel that I often use for simple decanting chores. They have great tapered pouring "spouts" that give an even and nice stream with no dripping. I often use these when I'm decanting a bottle to clear sediment and then pouring the wine back into the bottle.

                        A few other tips...

                        I often keep clean dry bottles around to pour a recently decanted wine into if I'm going to immediately pour the wine back into a bottle (say to bring to a restaurant, etc). This way Im not pouring the wine back into a wet wine bottle after it's been rinsed out. True, you won't have the label of the wine youre drinking so it may not suit every purpose, but when you don't care about that it works well.

                        Keep a few empty 1/2 bottles around... when you need to keep an unfinished bottle of wine, pour it into a half bottle. The lower volume of air allows it to keep fresher longer. This works particularly well when you only want a couple of glasses of a nice wine. Fill the 1/2 bottle to the neck and drink the other half.

                        1. re: SteveTimko


                          Yes, pulling the cork is a great idea, before pouring. [Grin]

                          OK, jokes aside, I do decant often, but weigh doing so on the specific wine. If it's an older red Burg, I usually will not do so, though the bottle might have been opened a bit, prior to serving. Some wines just to not stand up to much aeration. The wine (and the wine bottle, as mentioned above) might well give one the clue.

                          With really old Cal-Cabs and Bdx., I also might not decant, though general wisdom might indicate that there will be heavy sediment. Instead, I'll pour slowly and with great care. Some wines ARE fragile and do not live long after decanting. For me, there are few hard and fast rules.


                        2. Thanks to everyone who has responded so far...I'm sure more will chime in...this is helpful! Okay, so I bought a bottle
                          of 2006 Sterling Central Coast Cabernet Sauv today, no big deal, quite pedestrian which is all I can afford...but would it be good to open, pour, taste....then pour into glass and wait for 30 minutes and taste again to see if it's different? Would that be a good "baby step" to take on decanting?

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Val

                            Trial and error is the best way to learn, maybe the only way.
                            Recognize that too much air can make a wine collapse on itself. For my birthday a couple of years ago I opened a Chianti from the early 1990s the night before. I checked it a couple of times and it kept improving and getting better as it got more air, so I let it go overnight. By the time I checked it the next morning I had ruined it. It was basically dry and devoid of the wonderful flavors from the night before. So that was my lesson.

                            1. re: SteveTimko

                              Thanks again...sounds like a bit of a moving target...but I think I just have to DO it to learn more about it.

                            2. re: Val

                              If nothing else, that is great fun, especially with a group of like-minded folk, who will discuss what they are finding over the time. Though the wine might benefit from decanting, playing with it over an hour, or two, is great.


                            3. Ever notice how a tannic red wine tastes better and better as you keep drinking and pouring more into your glass? Why is the second glass better than the first? What makes that last sip so good? It's not the alcohol affecting your brain, it's the air exposure over time imitating aging. Maybe it is exactly like aging, maybe. anyway, decanting exposes the wine to air quickly.

                              I find decanting a pain in the neck, so I initate the second glass effect by pouring partial glasses (half a normal pour) for everyone and letting them sit 15-30 minutes (the glasses, not the guests) while getting the meal ready to serve. Not only is the wine in the glass well aerated, but the remaining wine in the bottle is exposed to a lot more air also.

                              Decanters? We don' need no stinkin' decanters!

                              1. Val,

                                Not every red (or white) will benefit from being decanted. For some, it might mean their death in the decanter. For others, you may end up with a much more interesting wine.

                                Yes, time in the glass counts some. When I *think* that a wine WILL benefit, I almost always pour myself a glass to monitor the progress.

                                How do we know? Well, younger, bigger and more tannic reds certainly might benefit. I'll usually go with my gut, comments from others and past experiences with the producer, the varietal, etc. It is a bit of a guessing game, and that's why I do my monitoring glass. I've had folk tell me that the '89 XXX requires 3 hours min., and then found that I thought it was ready much sooner.

                                Now, above I mentioned reds, or whites. I find that many bigger FR Chards benefit from being poured into a decanter, or carafe. When one is not separating sediment from a red wine, they often refer to the process as "caraffing." Basically, this is essentially the same, without the notice of sediment, but for the purposes of aeration only.

                                While I do decant often, I love to explore a wine, as it develops in my glass, over time. A great pleasure of mine.

                                Though I have mentioned it before, there are three reasons to decant:

                                Older wine, needing to be separated from the sediment
                                Younger wine, needing more aeration, than will be provided by just pouring
                                Any wine, that you are ashamed of the label and want the guests to think it's possibly something else...


                                1. As others have already noted, the only way to "know" is to "guess." There is no strict "Wine Type X, at Y years of age, needs Z time in a decanter" formula to go by.

                                  Young red wines (and whites) CAN benefit from time in a decanter, as the exposure to oxygen will help "soften" the tannins and "open" the wine. But how much time? It's an "educated guesstimate," and the only way to get the education is to be like a Nike Shoe commercial and "just do it."

                                  If I order a young red in a restaurant, AND I think it will benefit from decanting, I ask that it be decanted right away. A knowledgeable sommelier will not be as gentle in decanting a young red as he or she would be when decanting an old(er) Burgundy or Bordeaux.

                                  A suggestion:

                                  1) Buy two bottles of the same young red wine (e.g.: Cabernet).

                                  2) Open both; decant one vigorously (that is, let it splash around as you are decanting it).

                                  3) Pour one glass from each immediately. Taste both, take note of the differences.

                                  4) In 30 minutes, go back and pour a secondly glass from each. Taste both, take note of the differences.

                                  5) In 60 minutes, go back and pour a secondly glass from each. Taste both, take note of the differences.

                                  6) In 90 minutes, go back and pour a secondly glass from each. Taste both, take note of the differences.

                                  7) In 120 minutes, go back and pour a secondly glass from each. Taste both, take note of the differences.

                                  That will help . . . .


                                  1. I don't normally decant, but I believe in aeration. I had a really interesting experience with a young, drink-it-now termpranillo yesterday, as suggested by the shop where I bought it.

                                    This is a really cheap Spanish wine, six bucks. Pouring right after opening, it was light-bodied, pleasantly fruity, non-tannic.. After a couple of hours in the opened bottle, the tannin had appeared and now seemed a medium-bodied wine, still with plenty of snappy, juicy character there, and some residual "dustiness" and a grape-skin finish.

                                    It was interesting because I'd believed airing was supposed to dissipate tannins; in this case, it brought them out where they seemed absent before. Perhaps what I'm saying is that aeration created a better balance.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: comestible

                                      I usually decant red wines, if only because my wife has started buying me interesting decanters for my birthdays since she says I have too many wine glasses as it is. I find that it really helps many wines, especially younger ones. I always decant PNs, Shiraz, and for the most part Cabs. I am more judicious with Bordeaux, older stuff gets decanted to get rid of the sediment, but it has to be drunk fairly quickly or if falls apart. Younger stuff may or may not be decanted.

                                      I find that the bigger Shirazs need to be decanted and usually several hours before drinking.

                                    2. Ok... guess the decanting of reds has been explained very well at this point. So let's explore a few additional decanting concepts that Im sure will shake things up a little...

                                      WHITES: About 25 years ago, on one of my first trips to France I was surprised to find that when I ordered a big WHITE Burgundy at a highly regarded Michelin restaurant they decanted it. I hadn't thought of it... it enhanced the wine. Over the years Ive seen this happen on many occasions and I do it myself at home. This is mostly for wines that are on the younger side and will therefore benefit from some breathing... It's generally not done with older whites (where excessive handling is not recommended).

                                      DEMI-SEC: In France, dating back a few centuries, it was common practice to decant Demi-Sec (and even the regular dry champagnes). The practice of serving Demi-Sec from decanters is still followed by many today. For those who are not familiar with Demi-Sec, it's the sweeter champagne served as a dessert wine. This practice is promoted a lot at Veuve Clicquot.


                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: WineAG

                                        As stated up the thread, I carafe many whites, especially younger, big Burgs. It is fairly common practice, especially in FR restaurants, on all sides of most oceans. Works nicely for many big Chards, regardless of country of origin.

                                        I've never experienced the decanting/caraffing of Demi-Secs. Interesting and thanks for sharing.


                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          Bill, thank you again for a wonderful lunch last week in Scottsdale. I owe you a few Cuban puros!

                                          1. re: Veggo


                                            We can definitely work that out. Next time, it's golf, golf, golf, then wine and cigars!

                                            My pleasure,


                                          2. re: Bill Hunt

                                            Missed the white comments... sorry for that.

                                            As far as Demi-Sec goes... and I have to say I rarely drink it. I like the idea of serving it from a carafe... I do think it enhances the wine somewhat, but in this particular case I enjoy the concept of the tradition perhaps even more.

                                            1. re: WineAG

                                              I'll have to give this one a try. We do the occasional Demi-sec, so we have the opportunity.

                                              Thank you for the idea,


                                              PS one of the more interesting tastings that we've done was a Demi-sec and several artisianal chocolates, all in the "bitter-sweet" category. Cannot now recall if it was one of the WS events, or a trade tasting, but opened my eyes.