A Quick Summary on Choosing to Decant or Not to Decant

  • Some wines taste much better after decanting.
  • These wines either have sediment or unpleasant aromas that decanting will remove. 
  • Decanting lets you take out the sediment easily.
  • It also lets the unpleasant aromas evaporate away in the air.
  • However, some wines taste perfectly fine poured fresh from the bottle. 
  • Some wines even lose their good qualities after decanting

To make sure you’re decanting the right wines, it’s important to understand which ones benefit from decanting and which ones do not. Read on below to learn more about the wines that taste even better after decanting which ones you can enjoy freshly poured from the bottle. 

Wines That Should be Decanted

There are many wines that need to be decanted. Most of these wines either have sediments like aged red wines or have plenty of tannins and alcohol that need time to mellow out. 

Full-bodied young and tannic wines often benefit from one to two hours in the decanter. Examples of these heavy-hitters include syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and sangiovese. 

waiter pours elite red wine into decanter table restaurant

Wines like tannat, barolo, and barbaresco have even more tannins and tightly wound aromas. These amazing but powerful wines may need over two hours in the decanter, especially if they’re young. 

Medium-bodied or full-bodied reds benefit from 30 minutes to an hour in the decanter. Wines like cabernet franc, merlot, and malbec are part of this group. 

Light-bodied reds with low tannin and alcohol content, like cold-climate pinot noir, typically benefit from decanting for less than 30 minutes. These wines are already delicate and any more time may let their soft aromas evaporate too soon. 

Finally, few wines taste better after decanting more than fortified wines. Wines such as port or Madeira will taste great while fresh, but even better after several hours or even a day in your decanter. 

Learn more: Avoid Common Wine Decanting Mistakes

The Wines You Shouldn’t Decant

There are many white wines that are packed with beautiful aromas, just waiting to explode from the bottle. If you decant these wines, many of these aromas will disappear into thin air. 

Refreshing wines that contain compounds called thiols fit this category. Thiols produce aromas that mimic citrus fruits and juicy tropical fruits. Wines high in thiols that shouldn’t be decanted are sauvignon blancs, muscat, and pinot blanc. 

midsection man pouring white wine over a glass table

Even white wines that don’t have as many thiol compounds may be better fresh. The best way to know is either by asking the winemaker or experimenting yourself. 

Old library wines without sediment, like aged rieslings and chardonnays, will not benefit from being decanted. These wines have complex aromas that have already aged to perfection in the bottle. These extra special delicate aromas will simply start to disappear after a few minutes. 

Finally, if you open a bottle of red or white wine that doesn’t have sediment and smells perfectly delicious, skip the decanter. Your nose is the best tool you have to know whether or not you should decant. 

Wines to Decant Quickly

Red library wines like 15 years or older Bordeaux blends, Rioja, or Burgundy should be decanted to remove sediment. However, once you’ve extracted the sediment, you should enjoy the bottle right away. 

For the same reason as aged library white wines, these delicate reds contain beautiful compounds that will evaporate if exposed to the air for too long. This will leave your extra special wines tasting flat and dull. 

young man sommelier tasting red wine cellar

White wines that have been reduced during the winemaking process due to lack of oxygen will come out smelling like burnt matches. This unpleasant aroma is perfectly normal. After just five to ten minutes in your decanter, these off putting aromas will evaporate, leaving behind a pleasant smelling wine. 

Complex white wines that are prized for their intense aromas and special terroir should be decanted for 15 to 30 minutes. Wines such as white Burgundy, white Châteauneuf du pape, and white Bordeaux all fit in this category. 

Some champagnes can also be decanted to improve their flavor. These wines can have intense bubbles and tight aromas that may need to open up. 

Decanting these wines for 15 minutes or fewer can work wonderfully. However, any more time left exposed to the air and you may see your favorite sparkling wines become dull. 

More about decanting? Learn the Do’s and Don’ts of Decanting.

How to Know if I Decant My Wine or Not

Every variety of wine needs its own special treatment. While you can enjoy some wines fresh without decanting, others get even better after breathing or getting their sediment removed in a decanter.  

You can decant any wine you think would taste better after a little time in the decanter. Whether it’s sparkling wine or white wine, decanting can enhance your wine’s flavors and aromas. Or, you may prefer to enjoy your wine freshly out of the bottle and that’s fine too. 

red and white wines from the top. Some are in decanters and some are not

Decanting is useful for getting the chalky sediment out of aged red wines. If your wine doesn’t have sediment, you don’t have to worry about this step. Wines that don’t have sediment are young red wines, white wines, and most sparkling wines. 

Younger red wines, especially ones with high tannins and alcohol percentage, will also improve with decanting. With a little time in the decanter, their tannins and alcohol will mellow out, leaving their more subtle and delicious qualities behind. 

Fortified wines, especially dark red ports with complex tannins and high alcohol levels, can taste even more amazing after decanting. Also, certain white wines may suffer from reduction within the bottle, resulting in a faint sulfur aroma. Decanting them for just a quick 15 minutes will get those unpleasant aromas to evaporate away. 

Finally, if your wine is too cold, decanting can help. Just pour your extra cold bottle in your decanter and wait a few minutes until it’s the perfect temperature. 

Why we Decant Wine

When we open a bottle of wine, it sometimes has unwanted particles in the bottle or unwanted aromas. Sometimes it just needs time to open up and express itself. 

The first reason why we decant is to remove sediments from old red wine. These sediments accumulate over time and can leave your wine tasting bitter and chalky. 

When you pour an aged red wine, typically over 15 years old, directly into a glass without decanting, you’ll notice the cloudy sediment in your glass. Decanting separates these sediments so you can get a nice clean glass of wine. 

sommelier pouring red wine into decanter

Another major reason we decant is to aerate wine or expose it to air. A lot of the flavor in wine actually comes from its aroma. Some of these aromas are good and some are not so good. 

Decanting lets the wine rest in the decanter, which gives it enough time to expose itself to the air. This lets the unwanted aromas evaporate away, leaving the good aromas behind for us to enjoy. 

Also, just like when you drive or fly somewhere far away, you’re going to need to stretch out before enjoying your vacation. Wines are also pent up in a bottle for a long time and need to open up and stretch before being their best selves. 

There’s no Need for a Dilemma

Choosing whether to decant or not doesn’t have to be complicated. After just a brief explanation, you’ll be able to understand your wine and know if it needs time outside the bottle. 

Often the best and most fun way of knowing which wines should be decanted and which ones shouldn’t is by taste testing them yourself. At home, take two or three bottles of the same wine and try them side by side; one fresh, one decanted, and one decanted even longer. 

Take note of which versions you like better. You may be surprised.