Decanting is one of the most useful tricks to improve the aroma and taste of your wine. However, you might wonder how long is too long before your wine loses its flavor or turns sour. 

Over decanting depends on factors such as what type of wine you’re using and its age. By understanding the basics of decanting, you won’t have to worry about over decanting your wine

wine glasses and decanter in cellar

Wine, like any other food or beverage, changes the longer it’s exposed to air. Because it contains alcohol and other compounds like acids and tannins, you can leave it out for longer than, say, regular grape juice. 

However, even wine will mysteriously change its composition over time. And unless you’re making vinegar, these changes are not very pleasant. 

What Happens if I Decant my Wine for Too Long?

You may wonder if it’s possible to decant your wine for too long. The answer to this question is absolutely, but it depends on the wine and how long you leave it out for.

When left out for too long, wine will change color, smell, and taste. This happens when gasses like oxygen in the air cause chemical reactions in the wine. 

First, your wine will start to taste flat as the delightful aromas and compounds evolve or evaporate. After a few hours to a day later, you’ll smell over-ripe fruit and other less desirable smells in your wine. 

After several days to a week, you’ll notice that your wine is smelling a little like vinegar. This happens because bacteria in the air convert the alcohol into different compounds like acetic acid, the compound that makes your favorite balsamic taste delightfully sour. 

Does that mean you’ll just pour your overly decanted wine on a salad? Absolutely not. You’ll, unfortunately, want to dump your wine after a few days after decanting, or cook with it. If it’s a port, sherry, or other fortified wine, you can enjoy it for much longer. 

Which Wines Can be Decanted the Longest

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Some wines don’t need to be decanted at all and will quickly lose their aromas after a few minutes. Others will develop into the best expressions of themselves after a few minutes to a couple of hours and hold their structure even if you leave them out for a few extra hours. 

The most durable wines are fortified wines and wines with high tannins and alcohol. You can decant a fortified wine, such as a madeira or an aged ruby port for a few days, losing little to no quality. 

Tannic wines such as nebbiolo, young cabernet sauvignon, and syrah/shiraz will also barely lose their structure after several hours in a decanter. This is because their tannins, alcohol, and other compounds make them stand up to oxidation better than other wines. 

Delicate aged wines and white wines that give off citrusy and tropical aromas will lose their character quickly in a decanter. Wines such as a 15-year-old Burgundy or a crisp New Zealand sauvignon blanc will be better if you enjoy them immediately after opening. 

What Happens to Wine when it’s Decanted

wine decanter with georgian wine

When you uncork your bottle of wine and expose it to the air, two things happen. First, your wine starts to evaporate. This happens the moment you pour your wine into a decanter. 

There are hundreds of compounds packed into our wine. Each one causes a unique aroma in our senses. Volatile compounds, the ones that react quickly with other gasses, come to the surface of the wine first and dissipate into the surrounding air. 

Fortunately for us, these volatile compounds are less desirable than the fruity and earthy aroma causing compounds that stay in the wine the longest. Elements such as eggshell and matchstick aroma causing sulfites and hangover inducing ethanols are often the first to go when you pour your wine into a decanter. 

Moving your wine by swirling or pouring speeds up his process, dissipating undesirable notes like burnt matchstick or alcohol fumes, resulting in a smoother and more palatable wine.

Following evaporation is oxidation. This process unfolds gradually over hours and even days, rather than mere seconds or minutes.

Oxidation is the process that turns apples brown when they’re exposed to air. While major components such as tannins barely change after an hour, you may notice minor changes in color and flavor of the wine, caused by phenol compounds from the grape’s skins and seeds reacting to oxygen. 

Both evaporation and oxygenation are natural processes that work together. They may help your wine express its qualities, aroma, and overall balance, making it taste even better. 

What to do if Your Wine Has Been Overly Decanted

If you forgot about a decanted bottle of wine or you just couldn’t finish it, relax. There are several brilliant uses for wine that’s been decanted for too long. 

If it’s a bold red wine, you should be able to enjoy it up to a day after it’s been decanted. If it’s a port, sherry, or madeira, you can safely drink it over the course of a week or longer. 

After five days, even red wines will lose their appeal. White wines and delicate aged wines will start to taste less desirable after a day or even a few hours after being decanted. 

Once your decanted wine is past its peak, turn it into something new. Below are a few ideas for what to do with over decanted wine. 

Make Sangria or mulled wine 

make sangria with overdecanted wine
Image by kan chansathya from Pixabay

As long as your wine hasn’t turned to vinegar, you can use it to make delicious sangria or mulled wine. For sangria, add some fresh fruit, a splash of brandy, and your favorite clear soda. For mulled wine, heat up your decanted wine in a pot with orange slices, spices like cinnamon and star anise, and add a little honey. 

Use Your Wine to Make Jam

Few combinations are as tasty as jam made with fresh fruit and wine. Take a cup of overly decanted rose and combine it with strawberries or peaches to make the perfect summer rose jam. If you have a red wine, consider adding a splash to your favorite berry jam recipe. 

You can use your wine-infused jam to elevate your meals by using it as a topping on dishes such as French toast or alongside your favorite cheese and ham on a charcuterie board. 

Use it to Make a Stew or a Rich Pan Sauce

Adding your over decanted wine into stews makes them taste incredibly rich. Try making French classics like Boeuf Bourguignon with your favorite red wine or a fish stew with leftover chardonnay. 

You can also use your over decanted wine as a deglazer to make pan sauce. Just cook your favorite meat, vegetables, and herbs in a pan until they brown. Pour your wine onto the brown bits sticking to the pan and cook until the deglazed wine mixture reduces into an aromatic sauce. 

Make Your Own Vinegar

vinegar bottle

Making your own vinegar at home is easy. All you need are a few ingredients and time. First, combine 1 1/2 cups of any overly decanted dry red wine with 1/4 cup of raw apple cider vinegar. 

Add the mixture to a clean glass jar and cover it with a double layer of cheesecloth. Use a string or a rubber band to secure it and store it away in a cool, dark place like your wine cellar or basement for around 8 weeks. 

After it’s done, all you need to do is strain it. Add your homemade vinegar to your favorite salad or sauce and enjoy!

Keeping Track of Decanting Times is Easy

It’s easy to keep track of how long your wine has been in the decanter. Below are the common decanting times for several popular wines, so you don’t overly decant your wine.  

Light Bodied Red Wines and White Wines

Red wines such as grenache, pinot noir, gamay, and many white wines fall into this category. 

These wines should be decanted for 15 minutes or less. 

Medium Bodied Red Wines 

These wines open up more with a little more time in the decanter, between 30 minutes to an hour. They include wines such as malbec, merlot, and cabernet franc. 

Full Bodied Red Wines

These wines are full of alcohol and tannins, and body, making them hold up to decanting and come alive with longer times exposed to air. They can be decanted for over an hour and up to three or even four hours. These wines include syrah, petit verdot, and cabernet sauvignon. 

Fortified Wines 

Any wine with added alcohol is called a fortified wine. These wines include port, sherry, vermouth, and madeira. You can decant these wines for several hours, and with madeira, several days.