A Brief Summary on Decanting Red Wine

  • Sommeliers often decant their wines, especially reds. 
  • Decanting helps wines open up and express themselves. 
  • It also helps a sommelier remove sediment from older red wines. 
  • There are several decanting steps to follow to make your red wine taste amazing.
  • Each wine is different, and each style of red wine has its own proper decanting times. 
  • You can also decant your wine twice. This is called double decanting.  

Decanting is one of a sommelier’s most used tricks for turning a good wine great. Each red wine is different, but by following a few guidelines, you’ll be able to decant your red wine like a professional. 

Continue reading below to learn about the steps to decant your red wine, best decanting times, and more. Afterwards, you’ll be able to take your favorite red wine and make it taste even better.  

Steps to Decant Your Red Wine Properly

Whether you’re enjoying a 15-year-old vintage wine or a bottle from last year’s harvest, decanting will make a world of difference. Decanting helps young and tannic wines taste better and it removes the sediment that often builds up in older wines. 

decanter and glass of red wine by grapes

However, to get the perfect decant for a red wine, there are a few things to know. Below are several steps to follow to make sure you’re decanting your bottle of red wine correctly every time, like a sommelier. 

Stand Your Bottle Up

Red wines that are older than 10 years old will accumulate a lot of sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Sediment is caused when organic particles, tannins, and spent yeast cells form crystals in your wine over time. 

Before decanting an aged bottle of red wine, make sure to stand your bottle up for at least 24 hours ahead of time. This gives the sediment time to collect at the bottom of the bottle. 

If you skip this step, the sediment will form clouds in your wine when you pour it into your decanter. This will leave you with chalky wine that won’t taste the way it’s supposed to. 

Open Your Wine

After your wine has stood up for over 24 hours, carefully open it. If it’s a young wine, you can use a corkscrew. However, as wines age, their corks will start to break down and disintegrate. If you notice your cork is crumbling, reach for a butler’s friend wine opener. 

A butler’s friend uses two prongs to gently pull an old cork out of the bottle. It’s easy to use and prevents any pieces of cork from getting into your wine. 

Pour Carefully

Once your bottle’s open, carefully pour your wine into your clean decanter. Try not to move the bottle around as you pour slowly and carefully. 

Aim the stream of wine to the side of the decanter to get a nice aeration. Try not to pour too fast so you don’t cause any splashes. 

Agitating wine too much can disturb the sediment. If this happens, you’ll have to wait another 24 hours until it settles again. 

Stop Pouring at the Right Time

As you near the bottom of the bottle, slow down even further. As soon as you notice the sediment crystals collecting in the neck of your bottle, stop pouring. 

Pour out the remaining wine and sediment mixture into the trash. This will look like a red soupy liquid and will taste chalky and bitter. 

Sommeliers often use a flashlight to spot sediment buildup near the neck. This lets them catch the sediment every time. 

Decant Even Young Red Wines 

Young wines, especially heavy and tannic reds, may contain traces of sediment, especially if they’re unfiltered. If you’re unsure if there’s sediment in your wine, try decanting just in case. 

Some organic wines and small production wines can have organic material left in the bottle from the winemaking process. These particles are totally safe to drink, however, they are easy to remove by decanting. 

Read more: Guide to Decanting Your White Wine

Don’t Over Decant an Old Red Wine

Once your wine is in your decanter, it’s time to wait until it aerates. For young tannic wines, you can wait a long time before you have to worry. 

However, over decanting an aged red wine can be a mistake. For wines aged 15 years or more, exposure to air can cause their flavors and aromas to disappear. 

red wine in a glass and a decanter next to red grapes

This is especially true for aged and library wines. The compounds responsible for their unique characteristics have already transformed within the bottle. When you open your bottle, these delicate compounds will quickly evaporate, leaving a dull wine behind. 

If you have a bottle of special library wine over 15 to 20 years old, drink it immediately after decanting. Once the sediment is gone, get your glasses out and enjoy. 

How Long to Decant Red Wine

Decanting red wine is easy once you understand how to do it and for how long. Often, the best way to find out how long to decant a bottle of wine is by asking a sommelier, wine expert, or the winemaker or winery you bought your wine from. 

However, by just following a simple guideline, you’ll likely get a perfect decant every time. Below are some easy to follow tips on decanting times. While each wine varies, these time estimates can help you decant your red wine like a sommelier. 

15-Year-Old or Older Aged Red Wines (10 minutes or Less)

Aged red wines need less time in the decanter. Their complex aromas and compounds have already developed in the bottle, so they’re ready to be enjoyed right after removing their sediment. 

Light Bodied Reds (30 Minutes)

Light bodied red wines have delicate aromas that will taste great after a quick decant. These aromas may evaporate quickly, so it’s important not to over decant these wines. 

Wines such as cold-climate pinot noir from Oregon or gamay fall into this category. 

Medium Bodied Reds (30 Minutes to an Hour)

Medium bodied reds need to open up a little longer because they have more tannins and alcohol. Hidden behind these compounds are the wine’s more delicate aromas, which will show themselves after 30 minutes to an hour in your decanter. 

Wines such as malbec, merlot, warm-climate pinot noir, and cabernet franc, fall into this category. Some aged blends and special wines, such as some Burgundies and aged Bordeaux, also benefit from these decanting times. 

Bold and Full Bodied Reds (1 to 3 Hours)

These big and powerful wines include young Bordeaux blends, barolo, tannat, syrah, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon, and most Chianti. 

These wines can sit in a decanter for several hours without losing their special characteristics. This is because they have tons of alcohol and tannins that keep their structures tight. After decanting, these compounds soften up, letting their aromas and flavors balance out and become even better. 

Consider Double Decanting

Double decanting is when you pour your wine into a decanter and then pour it back into its cleaned out original bottle. It’s really that simple. 

Double decanting has many purposes. First, it gives bold and powerful wines extra aeration time. It may also shorten the times you need to decant your wine. 

Second, it works to preserve the wine’s original serving vessel: the bottle. Pouring wine from its original bottle is a best practice for sommeliers. This lets the taster see the label’s information and aesthetics, which are important parts of the wine drinking process. 

Why Decanting Red Wine is so Special

Red wine is full of complex flavors and aromas that make it some of the world’s best wine, especially with food. Alcohol and tannins in red wines also make it taste amazing but can taste tight and astringent. 

Red wine in a decanter next to cheese and grapes

Decanting helps the tannin and alcohol flavors loosen their grip on the wine. This helps the other, more delicate aromas and compounds come alive in your glass. 

Ultimately, choosing to decant a red wine depends on you. However, sommeliers reach for their decanters when they want their favorite red wines to open up and express themselves as much as possible.