How To Decant Wine: The Beginner’s Guide
Why Do We Decant Wine?
We decant wine for two main reasons:
- to remove any sediment that has collected at the bottom of the bottle
- to aerate the wine so that the flavours can fully develop before serving.
Decanting can also help to remove any unpleasant scents from the fermentation process that can linger in the bottle; many young wines (10 years old or less), for example, can develop a strong egg-like smell due to the use of sulphur dioxide.
Decanting improves the overall tasting experience of white or red wine – but it is advisable not to decant rosé, as aeration can damage its delicate composition of flavours.
How To Decant Wine
Prepare your chosen wine for decanting by leaving it to stand upright for a few days beforehand. This will allow any sediment in the wine to settle at the bottom of the bottle.
Assemble what you will need for the decanting process:
- A good quality, clear wine carafe.
- Your wine of choice.
- Candle or flash light.
- Sharp knife.
Ensure that your carafe is properly clean and free of dust or anything else that could affect the flavours, or ‘nose’, of the wine. Don’t wash your carafe with detergent or soaps – instead, use a mixture of crushed ice and coarse salt to remove any residue wine and then simply rinse with hot water. This prevents the carafe from picking up any unwanted flavours or odours.
Remove the entire capsule around the bottle neck of your wine with a sharp knife. Also remove any metal or plastics to ensure that you have no obstructions when watching for the sediment during the decanting process.
Pour a small glass of wine to taste as a starting point, so that you can assess how the flavour develops as you progress through the decanting process and are then able to judge the length of time needed before serving.
Removing the Sediment:
Pour the wine slowly at a 45-degree angle from the bottle into the carafe: guiding the stream to hit against the opposite side of the carafe neck so that it gently flows over the glass curves and avoids frothing at the surface.
As you do this, use your light source – either a candle or a flash light – to locate the sediment in the bottle, and avoid pouring the sediment into the carafe. Take care not to heat the wine as you do this, however, as the overall flavour is very sensitive to temperature.
Once the wine bottle is tipped enough so that the sediment has reached the shoulder of the bottle, stop. If you feel that you could get more wine from the remaining sediment, you could always allow the wine to sit for a few more hours so that the sediment settles at the bottom of the bottle once more. In our experience, however, it is more likely that the sediment will not separate from the wine any further once you have reached this stage.
Although using a coffee filter to aid this process is a popular choice, try not to do this as this can sometimes harm the wine by removing too much substance and upsets the balance of the flavours.
By the end of this process, you should be left with a carafe full of clear wine and about half a glass of wine laden with sediment left in the bottle. This leftover wine is a great cooking ingredient, so be sure not to let it go to waste.
Aerating the Wine:
Gently swirl the wine within the carafe and then leave it to aerate for approximately 30 minutes.
Keep tasting the wine periodically during this time to compare the flavour with the original taste of the wine at the beginning of the decanting process, and to assess how far the wine has developed.
When it tastes right to you – serve and enjoy!
Remember, if you leave a wine to aerate for too long, you are left with a harsh, vinegar taste and cannot bring the original flavour back. The length of time needed to aerate varies for each wine, so make sure that you check back and taste it periodically. The wine will also continue to develop in the glass after it has been served, so it is better to err on the side of caution then to leave the wine standing for too long.
Serving the Wine:
Make sure that you have the appropriate stemware for your chosen wine. Quality crystal wine glasses that combine these four important characteristics are ideal:
- clear bowl – so that you can observe the colour and condition of the wine.
- A long stem – so that the warmth of your hands does not overheat the wine.
- A thin rim – to ensure that sipping is easy and enjoyable.
- A wide capacity – so that you have room to safely swirl the wine.
Glasses intended to serve red wine should be filled to about halfway and have a larger bowl, so that it can fit into your palm and gently be warmed by your body temperature.
White wine glasses should have a longer stem and a more slender bowl than those used for red wine, so that it stays cool for as long as possible. Your glass should be filled to about one third with white wine.
Champagne and sparkling wines are traditionally served in flutes to preserve the bubbles and direct the flavour up towards the palate. These should roughly be filled to about three-quarters of the glass.
Find out more about the different types of wine glasses with our infographic about Wine Glassware & Stemware 101
REMEMBER: it is always advisable to present the empty wine bottle at the table alongside your decanter if you are entertaining guests, as they will often like to refer back to bottle when commenting on the wine’s flavour.
Serve and enjoy!