Should I Be Decanting My Wines?

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As I kid I was never very good at saving treats. If someone gave me a bag of candy, I would methodically work my way through it until it was gone. Once I’d started, I just couldn’t stop. Holidays were especially torturous. After Easter, for example, my sister would be taking slow, deliberate, taunting bites of her chocolate bunny for days while mine had hardly lasted an hour.

So what’s this to got to do with wine?

Sometimes, the best way to enjoy a wine is not all at once, but to savor and wait. Now I don’t necessarily drink wine like I used to eat chocolate, but even when taking my time with a wine, often it’s not til the last sips that I get the revelatory moment of “Ah, that’s what it’s meant to taste like.”

In those cases the wine needed to “open up,” i.e., it needed exposure to the air for it to become the best version of itself. The oxygen causes some chemical compounds in wine to break down and change and causes other compounds to evaporate. This helps diminish disagreeable and unwelcome aromas while allowing aromatic and flavorful ones to shine.

Swirling wine in a glass is often sufficient to aerate (introduce oxygen to) a wine (which is why we show you how to do it in Five Secrets to Wine Confidence). Decanting works the same way, but with the whole bottle. The best decanters have a wide base to allow more wine to contact the air, but any clean jug or jar will do.

Most wines off the shelf could benefit from decanting. Even cheap wines will usually benefit from a decanter moment as it will help blow off any ugly ethanol or sulfur aromas.

How long to decant can vary – try experimenting to see the difference in a wine after 15 minutes all the way up to an hour. Be careful with older, delicate wines as they don’t thrive in air for long (though they may be decanted to remove sediment).