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Explained: Wine Decanting 101

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(No, it’s not just for fancy people.)

red wine in decanter on table

We all know how to serve wine, right? Pop cork, pour into glass, drink. Right. But also, what if there is a better way to serve wine? A way that is simple, makes wine taste better right off the bat, and looks pretty darn chic on a dining table? Wine, meet decanter. Here is Decanting Wine 101.

The basics: What is wine decanting? What does it do?

Decanting means pouring liquid from one container into another container. For wine purposes, this means pouring wine from the bottle into a decanter (but not always; more on this later). There are two main categories why people decant wine:

1. To counter sediment.

First, older wines may develop sediment as they age. If someone pours an aged wine directly into glasses, sludgy dark sediment could hitch a ride along with it, which does not make for good drinking. For these types of wines, decanting is done very slowly, using a light at the neck of the bottle to illuminate sediment as wine is poured out.

2. For flavor.

For those not digging into their collection of 20-year Barolo this week — though young natural wines are prone to throwing off sediment as well — decanting will be more about bringing out flavor and aroma.

Younger wines tend to have less nose or aroma, and may taste a little too tannic or one-note — in wine parlance, you may hear descriptors like “closed,” “grippy,” or “tight.” Pouring wine into a decanter draws oxygen into the wine. The added air lets the flavors open and bloom. Tannic wines like cabernet and Syrah and related blends soften, especially benefitting from decanting.

You may also enjoy: Coffee: What Does Light, Medium, and Dark Roast Mean and The Best Wine Pairings for Turkey This Thanksgiving

burrata tomatoes with red wine

How do you decant wine?

This depends again on the wine you are decanting. If you are decanting an old wine and eliminating sediment, place a candle at the neck of the wine bottle as you very slowly pour the wine into a decanter. Toward the end of the pouring process, you may notice sediment at the neck. Stop! (Tip: You can filter this through using a coffee filter.)

Before decanting an aged wine, take note: If the wine had been laying on its side, make sure the bottle gently gets turned right-side up for a while first, to let the sediment migrate to the bottom.

For younger wines, the process is much more straightforward. Simply pour the bottle of wine into the decanter, and let it sit for at least 15 or 20 minutes before serving straight into wine glasses. (As a fun experiment, you may want to hold a little wine back in the bottle to compare the difference in flavor.)

A note on what qualifies . . .

. . . As a decanter:

Decanters like the one in these photos are most traditional, but are not necessary. Wine can be decanted into other vessels just as easily, such as a vase or large jar. Or even, yes, a blender. Point is, no need to be precious or spend extra money on it.

. . . As a wine to decant:

Aged wines, natural wines prone to sediment, and younger reds are the easy choices. But other wines are worth decanting as well. Higher-acid young whites like chenin blanc, white Burgundies, Grüner Veltliner, and rieslings do well with decanting. Whites tend to need less time in the decanter before serving than reds; between five and 15 minutes should do the trick.

red wine in decanter on table

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