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Inside Knowledge: How and when to decant wine

How and when to decant wine

In Short:
Decanting wine can really improve your tasting experience. This is our guide on when and how to decant and what equipment you need to do it.

With the months of dinner parties, cosy nights in and family gatherings ahead, you might find the time to crack open a mature Bordeaux or a Gran Reserva Rioja. After all, it's the season to really treat yourself.

So it's time to answer the age-old question: when should you decant wine, and what's the best way to do it?

What does decanting mean?

As a very good red wine ages, it forms a natural deposit in the bottom of the bottle. This is nothing to worry about, and it won't affect its taste. You can remove this by pouring the wine from the bottle into a decanter until only the sediment remains at the bottom.

What does aerate mean?

There's a second benefit to decanting wine. Aerating wine makes the most of the positive effects of oxygen. Too much oxygen can spoil a wine. But just the right amount is widely thought to allow the more subtle elements of a great red to shine and soften its tannins. You can make the most of this when you decant wine for the right amount of time.

When should you decant wine?

Malbec, Shiraz (also known as Syrah), Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo and big red blends (Bordeaux, Rioja) are wines that will almost always benefit from decanting. The vast majority of white wines, rosé wines and lighter reds won't benefit from a decanter, but they'll get a beneficial amount of oxygen in your glass.

How long should wine breathe?

Letting a wine breathe isn't as simple as uncorking and allowing a small amount of air inside the bottle. In this case, you'd have to leave the bottle open for a few days to get a noticeable effect. Wine has to have a significant amount of exposure to oxygen for it to 'open up'. As a rule of thumb, aim for an hour.

How to decant wine

Wine decanting is a straightforward process. First, remove the bottle from its rack and hold it carefully upright to make sure the deposit isn't agitated. Very gently remove the cork, hold the bottle in front of the light (to get a clear view of the sediment) and slowly pour the wine into the decanter until the deposit can be seen at the neck of the bottle. If the wine begins to cloud up, stop pouring immediately.

Should you choose a wine aerator or a decanter?

You might have seen decanters in all sorts of fascinating shapes. But you can choose the glassware for the occasion according to the wine: the fuller-bodied the red, the more oxygen you need. This is where a wide-based decanter is the best option. If you prefer medium-bodied reds (like Merlot, Sangiovese or Barbera), a smaller decanter comes in handy.

Wine aerator gadgets are also an option – you can find pocket-sized pourers and mechanical decanting systems widely available. But the jury is still out on many of these, and effects can differ depending on the wine aerator.

Whichever system you choose this autumn, we hope the red matches your hearty meals.