The Decanter Guide

Make the most out of every bottle you open with these tips to highlight your wine's delicious flavors!

First Things First: How Oxygen Affects Wine

Oh, oxygen. It's so important to life, and very important to wine. During the winemaking process, oxygen is an ever-present force that winemakers try to control during harvest, fermentation, and aging. The amount of oxidation during the aging process will modify the wine's flavors—doing everything from controlling vegetal aromas to adding nutty characteristics.

But even after a wine has been bottled and sold to you, there's another element of oxidation. Your open bottle of wine is being oxidized as it sits on your table. Depending on the wine, this is either helping or hurting it. Over oxidation (for example, a wine that's been sitting out for a week) can make the wine's flavors taste flat and stale. But the right amount of oxidation can trigger a chemical reaction that makes the wine taste even better.

So...What Does This Have to Do With Decanters?

A decanter is basically an agent of oxidation. For some bold, tannic, or older wines, increasing the oxygen exposure can greatly improve the taste. Why? Oxidation helps soften the astringency from the tannins and brings out the fruity and floral notes. To that end, a decanter is used to quickly boost oxygen exposure by increasing the wine's contact with air.

Think about it: when you open a bottle of wine, only the top of the wine is exposed to the air. Swirling it around helps, a little. But, if you pour that wine into a vessel with a wider surface area, you'll be greatly speeding up the oxygen exposure.

Decanting also allows you to separate out any sediment in the wine. Ideally, when you pour the bottle into the decanter, you'll be able to see where the sediment begins and can stop pouring before it goes into the decanter, thus leaving all the sediment in the bottle to be discarded.

What Wine Needs to Be Decanted

The best wines to decant are full-bodied, bold, tannic ones, because they'll benefit from it the most. But you can certainly still decant other red wines to bring out their flavors even more! Full-bodied wines can be decanted for about 1-2 hours, while older wines will probably need closer to 2 hours. (If you don't have that long, even just a few minutes and a swirl in the decanter will help.) For lighter reds, 15-20 minutes should do the trick.

Wondering about your white wines? Sure, whites can benefit a little from a swirl in the decanter, just not as much as reds. Spending 20 minutes in a decanter can help bring the wine from the too-cold refrigerator temperature up to a more palatable one, as well as bring out some additional aromatic characteristics.

How to Decant a Wine

Using a wine decanter is pretty simple. Just pour the wine into the glass pitcher and let it sit for the desired amount of time. The hardest part is letting it sit that long without drinking it!

In Short, the quick oxidation that happens when you decant a bold, tannic, or older wine helps make it smoother and brings out more of its delicious flavors. So the next time you plan on serving a delicious red wine with dinner, don't forget to pour it into a decanter beforehand!

Rich Reds to Decant at Home

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