A Summary on Decanting Wine for Optimal Flavor

  • If you have a decanter, you may be wondering how long you should decant your wine.
  • Fortunately, there are a few trusted guidelines for when and how long you should decant your wine. 
  • No matter if you’re pouring white wine, red wine, or even sparkling wine, a decanter may save the day.
  • By simply following a few suggested decanting times, you’ll get closer to finding the perfect expression of your wine. 

Below are some helpful tips and things to think about when choosing how long to decant your wine, what happens if you decant too long, and the reasons why decanting works.  

When to Decant Wine

Person decanting red wine.

All wine behaves differently and likes to be treated a certain way. There are some wines that taste better fresh without decanting, while others need a little extra time to open up or have their pesky sediment removed. 

This is where decanting comes in. There are a few situations when you should decant your wine. Other times, it’s really up to your preference.

Decant Your Wine to Remove Sediment

Decanting helps when you need to remove sediment from an aged red wine. Sediment builds up over time from the unfiltered microscopic yeast cells and organic plant material that slowly crystallizes with the wine’s tannins as it ages. 

Decant Your Young and Tannic Reds

Younger red wines, especially the most tannic and alcoholic styles, can also benefit from decanting. This practice helps soften the tannins and alcohol, making the wine better balanced and more enjoyable.

Fortified Wines are Great Decanted

Decant fortified wines, especially dark red ports that have complex tannin structures and high alcohol. These wines will open up especially well when decanted and express their more delicate and hidden aromas.

Decant Some White Wines Too

Some white wines suffer from being reduced in the bottle. This gives a slight sulfur smell, which can be taken out by a few minutes in a decanter. 

Other white wines may taste tight or unexpressive. You can decant these wines quickly so they can open up and express their more subtle aromas better.

Decant for Temperature Control

Finally, decanting could be your best option to warm up a wine. Sometimes, either through improper storage or leaving it in the fridge for too long, your wine might be too cold to serve. To warm your wine up, just pour it into a decanter for a short period of time to get it to the right temperature. 

How Long to Decant Red Wine 

how long to decant red wine

Red wines come in all styles, from heavy and tannic flavor bombs to subtle and expressive wines that are delicate and temperamental. No matter which style you prefer, you may want to decant it.

Low bodied reds that have low tannin and low alcohol, such as cold-climate pinot noir or gamay, should be decanted for less than 30 minutes.

Aged library wines such as burgundy, bordeaux, or rioja may need even less time. This is because through aging, their acidity, tannins, and alcohol have loosened their grip, leaving the delicate and delicious qualities behind.

Medium bodied reds or full-bodied reds that have been aged for around 10 years will benefit from 30 minutes to an hour in the decanter. Wines such as merlot, cabernet franc, and malbec all fall into this category. 

Full-bodied and tannic wines and many young wines, less than two years old, will benefit from one to two hours in the decanter. Wines such as cabernet sauvignon, syrah/shiraz, sangiovese, and rioja, fall into this category. 

Finally, some full-bodied reds have tannins that are so powerful that they need even longer in the decanter. Wines such as tannat, Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, and nebbiolo based Italian wines such as barolo and barbaresco may need over two hours in the decanter, especially if they’re young. 

How Long to Decant White and Rose Wine

white wine glass

White wine and rose wine have more delicate aromas and flavor profiles than red wines. This means they won’t benefit from as much time in the decanter as red wines. 

For most white wines and roses, five to 20 minutes in the decanter can really make the wine come alive. Any more than this is unnecessary.

Some white wines that have been made with minimal exposure to oxygen tend to give off a sulfur or rotten egg aroma when opened. This is called reduction and can make a wine drinker think twice about a certain wine’s quality. To let these aromas evaporate, you can decant these ‘reduced’ white wines for around 30 minutes. 

How Long to Decant Sparkling Wine

sparkling wine

As controversial as it is amongst wine professionals, some sparkling wines may benefit from decanting. As long as you don’t decant them for too long, you may be surprised what decanting can do to even the best sparkling wines on the market. 

Champagne, the most famous of all styles of sparkling wine, was traditionally decanted to remove the spent yeast cells from the secondary fermentation. Champagne relies on a secondary fermentation to produce its ‘bubbles’ or CO2. Early champagnes were cloudy and full of spent yeast cells and therefore decanting them was the only way to make them clear and beautiful. 

Even today, with our perfectly filtered sparkling wines, decanting serves a few purposes. First, it helps soften bubbles that are too tight and intense. Some sparkling wines, especially wines such as Cava and other tank fermented sparkling wines, can have bubbles that are too intense. Decanting gives an over-carbonated wine time to release some of its bubbles and soften. 

Just like in some white wine, decanting also helps get rid of any unwanted aromas that come from reduction. Young sparkling wines too will sometimes benefit from a little decanting by opening up and becoming even better. 

If you’re in doubt, try experimenting yourself. Choose two bottles of your favorite sparkling wines. They don’t have to be expensive. Pour one in a decanter for 15 minutes and the other straight into your glass and see which one shines the most. 

How Long to Decant Orange Wines and Natural Wines

Other less common styles of wine, such as orange wine and natural wine, may taste better after a short trip to the decanter. Like white wines and roses, a good 15 to 30 minutes should do the trick. 

Orange wines are basically white wines that get their orange color from skin contact. Like red wines or roses, they too have tannins that could use some time aerating in a decanter. 

Natural wines and biodynamic wines usually experience some sort of reduction that gives them a sulfur smell when you open them. Let these wines breathe in your decanter for 20 to 30 minutes. If you still smell something off-putting, it means the wine is probably bad and you should return it. 

How Long to Decant Fortified Wine

how long to decant fortified wines

Fortified wines are wines that have added alcohol to ‘fortify’ them. Originally, this was done to preserve the wine for long journeys on ships. Although the days of wooden ships and sun exposure at sea are long gone, many of these styles of wines have become more popular than ever. 

Styles such as red Port benefit from over three hours in a decanter. This is because their tannins, alcohol, and complex aromas need extra time to open up. Plus, they usually have quite a lot of sediment buildup from aging. 

Vermouth, a fortified wine that’s been infused with herbs and other botanicals, also does well in a decanter. Artisanal and aged vermouths are made with aromatic botanicals that benefit from time in a decanter. This gives these complex aromas time to breathe and open up. 

Madeira, the rich fortified wine from the Portuguese island of Madeira, requires the most time in a decanter. This is because madeira is made in an environment exposed to air, heat, and other elements, which gives it its characteristic richness. 

Don’t be afraid to decant madeira for over a day and sometimes longer. Many sommeliers prefer to leave this unique fortified wine in a decanter for several days if it’s several decades old. 

What Happens if You Decant Wine For Too Long?

For most wine, decanting for a little longer than the recommended time is nothing to worry about. Oxidation takes a long time to turn those wonderful compounds in wine into sour ones. 

If you drink your decanted wines within a couple of hours, you probably won’t notice much of a difference other than a change in temperature. However, some wines respond to air exposure quicker than others. 

White wines like sauvignon blanc and other wines with high amounts of thiols—compounds that give these wines their signature tropical fruit aromas—may start to smell and taste blander over an hour or two. 

Many aged wines over 15 years old are especially delicate and should only be decanted for a few minutes. If you leave one of these special wines out for too long, they will rapidly lose their character. 

How Decanting Wine Works 

how wine decanting works
Want to know more? Read our Wine Decanting 101: A Beginner’s Guide.

First, let’s talk about why we decant wine to begin with. The first reason deals with separating the sediments that have built up in the bottle over time. 

As red wine ages, all the organic particles and yeast cells left over from fermentation crystalize with tannins. Soon, they sink to the bottom of the bottle. If you shake an old bottle of red wine over 15 years old and pour it directly into your glass, you’ll probably see a cloud of sediment appear, making the wine look murky.  

Although these sediments are harmless, they can taste bitter and chalky and make your wine drinking experience way less enjoyable. Decanting lets us separate these pesky sediments, giving us a clean and sediment-free wine to enjoy. 

The next reason we decant wine is for aeration. Aeration is when we let wine interact with the air. Most of what we taste in wine is from smell. And what we smell are the volatile gasses that escape wine when it evaporates. Some of these gasses are full of beautiful aromas, and others, not so much. 

Decanting aerates wine by letting the wine sit at the decanter’s base, expanding the wine’s surface area and giving it more contact with the air. This gives all the unwanted compounds the time and space to evaporate. 

Wines spend a considerable amount of time in a bottle and letting them out is like getting out of a car after a long road trip. After a few minutes to hours outside the bottle, they’ll start to open up. 

This is how a wine that smells tight or a little off opens up and becomes infinitely better after decanting. Decanting will often turn even the harshest wines into the best expressions of themselves.

In the End, it Depends on You

Decanting helps some wines breathe and become even better. It also helps take out any sediment buildup that will affect how it tastes. By decanting, you’re improving your wine drinking experience and giving your wine the attention it deserves. 

However, decanting ultimately depends on your preference. Some wine drinkers prefer to enjoy their wine poured straight out of the bottle and that’s ok. Enjoying wine is about exploring taste and smell, and everyone is entitled to their own likes and dislikes. 

As always in the world of wine, it’s good to experiment. Consider taking two bottles of the same wine and compare them back to back or test out different decanting times. What you find out might surprise you.