Decanters at a Glance

  • They come in a wide range of prices, sizes, and shapes. But no matter how pricy or unique your decanter is, all decanters serve the same purposes and they all look great.
  • When you use a decanter, you’re allowing your wine to open up by exposing it to air. Some wines are shy and hide their best characteristics until they have time to open up and release their best qualities. 
  • If you’re opening an aged bottle of red wine, you can use a decanter to remove sediment from the bottle. Besides aeration, sediment removal is the second reason decanters come in handy. 

Keep reading to learn more about what is a wine decanter and why you should own one. We’ll go over which wines benefit from decanting and the best tips to get the most out of this versatile and beautiful piece of glass or crystal ware. 

All About Decanters

Most decanters are made from strong see-through glass or crystal. Some are stronger than others and come in all price ranges. 

Typically, a decanter has a wide base, and a narrow tapered neck. The wide base gives the wine more surface area, letting it aerate while its neck makes it easy to pour. 

wine glasses and decanter

While some decanters have unconventional shapes and sizes, such as magnum-sized options and even strange custom designs, others are more traditional. Most are colorless and transparent, letting you see the wine and its color through the glass or crystal. 

Among the most prevalent decanter shapes are the standard, duck, and swan shapes. Some other shapes use tubes and creative bowls to create artistic shapes and designs.  

Swan-shaped decanters have elongated necks and shorter bodies, resembling a graceful swan. Cornett and duck-shaped decanters are variations of this design. 

Despite their diverse appearances, all decanters serve the same purposes: to eliminate sediments and aerate the wine, so it opens up and tastes better. 

Which Wines Should I Decant? 

For many wines, decanting can really improve their quality and remove sediment that can cause your wine to taste bitter and chalky. However, not all wines need to be decanted, and each style of wine has its own decanting times. 

But don’t panic. Decanting is easy to do and fun. And with a little help from our guide below, you’ll be able to time it right to get the best tasting wine as possible. 

wineglasss decanter with red wine vintage wood background
Decanters are crafted from glass or crystal and feature a broad base and narrow top for easy pouring. Some are of higher quality than others and can come in a variety of styles.

Outlined below are several red and white wines that can improve with decanting. They will taste and smell notably different after following these suggested times, giving you a better wine drinking experience. 

Some White Wine and Champagne

Most white wine and sparkling wines are perfect to drink right after you open them. Others, however, may get even better after a brief 15 to 30 minutes in your decanter. 

Some white wines have faint rotten egg or burnt match smells that are caused by lack of oxygen in the winemaking process. When this happens, all you typically have to do is decant them to release these volatile compounds that are causing the unpleasant aromas. 

Other white wines and champagnes may be wound up too tightly. Decanting them helps open them up and allows them to breathe, making them taste even better than before. 

Light Bodied Reds

Wines in this category typically have lower tannin and body than their bold counterparts. Older wines may need decanting if they have sediments built up in their bottles.  

Usually, only 15 to 30 minutes of decanting time is all you need for these delicate wines. Examples include Pinot Noir, Gamay, and some Cabernet Franc. 

Medium Bodied Reds

Medium-bodied red wines, with their higher tannin and alcohol content, benefit from longer decanting times of 30 minutes to an hour. Examples include merlot, malbec, and lighter sangiovese. 

This group also includes many aged blends such as Bordeauxs and Rhone-style GSMs. As these wines age, their alcohol, tannins, and flavorful compounds start to mellow out, leaving the wines tasting refined and expressive. 

Some pinot noir styles come out medium bodied, especially ones from California. With these bold pinot noirs, you can decant them for up to an hour. 

Full Bodied Reds

Characterized by their aggressive tannins, alcohol, and body, full-bodied red wines benefit from an hour or more in your decanter. Decanting for over an hour softens them and allows complex aromas to flourish. 

Examples include zinfandel, syrah, petit verdot, and cabernet sauvignon. Other full-bodied wines include nebbiolo and sometimes sangiovese. These grapes are responsible for the famous full-bodied, heavy hitters Borolo and Chianti. 

Full-bodied reds will probably have lots of sediment as they age past 10 years. This is because they contain a lot of tannins and compounds that will crystalize over time. Decanting is an easy and effective way to remove these gritty bits floating at the bottom of the bottle. 

Fortified Wines 

Fortified wines such as sherry, port, and Madeira benefit from extended decanting periods of several hours to fully express themselves. Known for their complexity from age, alcohol, and tannins, these wines are packed with flavors and aromas unlike anything else. 

Because of their high alcohol, you can safely decant these wines for several hours to even a day. With Madeira, you can leave it in the decanter for several days, resulting in a richer and more expressive wine. 

How to Use Your Decanter

Decanting wine may seem complicated, but if you follow the steps, you’ll have no problems. To practice, you can hone in your decanting skills at home using less expensive bottles as an experiment. 

pouring red wine into decanter
Read our Beginner’s Guide to Decanting

By testing your skills at home on cheap wine, you’ll understand the process inside and out. When the time comes to decant special bottles of wine at home or at a wine party, you’ll be ready for the job and full of confidence.  

Preparing the Bottle

Before enjoying your wine, make sure the bottle stands upright for a day or more. This allows any sediment present in the wine to settle. 

Don’t Move the Bottle too Much

Before decanting, make sure not to disturb the bottle before you decant it. If you move it too much, you may cause the sediment to turn the wine cloudy. If this happens, you’ll have to wait a day or two before it saddles again. 

Choosing and Preparing the Decanter

Select your decanter of choice and make sure it’s clean and dry. Also check to see if there is any dust or debris inside that might affect the taste of the wine. 

Opening the Bottle

Remove the cork from the wine bottle using a corkscrew. If it’s an old bottle, you may have to use a butler’s friend opener which uses two prongs to remove a weathered cork. 

Pour Your Wine in the Decanter

In a well-lit area, pour the wine slowly into the decanter. Pay particular attention to going really slowly as you reach the bottom of the bottle to catch the sediment before it goes in your decanter. Once the last bit of wine mixes with the sediment, you can throw it away. 

Aeration

Allow the decanted wine to sit for a duration of 30 minutes to several hours, depending on the style of wine. With some old library wines, you may be able to enjoy the wine right after you pour it in the decanter and remove the sediment. 

Try not to Over Decant

Typically, most wines require an hour or less to decant. However, leaving your wine in the decanter for more than the recommended time won’t ruin it. Read more about overdecanting wine →

Extended exposure of your wine in the decanter for over four hours could lead to the first stages of oxidation. This phenomenon occurs because of chemical reactions caused by oxygen in the air. Too much oxygen exposure can leave your wine tasting flat and smelling slightly like rotten fruit. 

After a few weeks, the wine will start to turn into vinegar, although you won’t want to use this on your food. High-quality red wine vinegar is made the same way, just using better quality bacteria as the starter. 

How to Shop for the Right Decanter for you

Decanters offer an array of choices in size and price. You can find producers who make elegant decanters made out of crystal or glass and everyday decanters ready for parties. 

Each decanter has its own distinctive shape and functionality. When choosing a decanter, grab one that blends form and function. Look for decanters with wide, shallow bowls and narrow necks. 

decanting white wine

You should only buy a decanter that’s made out of high-quality glass or transparent crystal. These materials are the best because they are strong and don’t give off any aromas or flavors in the wine. 

You can always find a decanter that’s in your price range. While some options may be more expensive, there are many affordable alternatives that perform exceptionally well. 

How to Take Care of Your Decanter

No matter if it’s brand new or used, you want to keep your decanter as clean as possible. Wine picks up subtle aromas caused by dirt, soap scum, or dust. 

To clean your decanter, it’s best not to put it in the dishwasher, even if it’s dishwasher safe. This is because dishwashers won’t be able to clean the inside of the bowl. 

Try using warm water and a little vinegar and a handy curved brush. Gently scrub the decanter until any wine residue comes out. Once you’re done, just rinse with warm water. 

You can also buy cleaning beads. These stainless steel beads will do a great job at cleaning the hard to reach inside surfaces. Just use them with warm water and gently move them around inside the bowl. 

By having a clean decanter, you’ll never have to worry about ruining your wine. Just remember to air dry your decanter after cleaning. 

Why Wine Decanters are Worth it

No matter if you’re buying one for yourself or as a gift, wine decanters are an excellent complement to any home bar, kitchen, or wine storage area. While not essential for all wines, adding a decanter can significantly help many varieties. 

pouring wine carafe gray table
Explore different options to discover the ideal design that resonates with you. Plus, a decanter can enrich your home wine collection.

Available in various sizes, shapes, and price ranges, decanters are for all sorts of budgets and preferences. With a modest investment and just a bit of practice, you can elevate your wine drinking experience.