When should you decant wine?

winebottle-sedimentHow many of you own decanters but don’t know what to do with them? I love this picture (thanks for taking it for me Martin!) because it shows you exactly why you need to decant some aged red wines.

See that sludgy stuff up near the neck of the bottle? That’s sediment. Sediment forms as highly tannic (read dry) wine ages. It is the grainy deposit that is the result of the separation of bitartrates (acids), tannins and colour pigments that occurs as wines age.

Although sediment is not a bad thing to find in a wine bottle (it can indicate that a wine is well enough aged to be ready to drink), you don’t want to drink the sediment itself. So, here’s how to decant a wine so that you get just the good stuff in your glass:

1. If a wine has been laying on its side in a wine rack, it’s best to stand it up for several hours or overnight to let the sediment sink to the bottom.
2. Uncork the bottle gently so that you don’t disturb the sediment and redistribute it throughout the wine.
3. Light a candle or position a strong light behind the wine bottle. Set a clean, dry decanter or pitcher next to the bottle.
4. Gently and slowly pour the wine into the decanter keeping an eye on the light shining through the bottle to ensure that you are pouring only liquid into the decanter (the light will shine through the wine but not as well through the sediment).
5. As you get closer to the sediment, slow down your pouring to ensure the sediment doesn’t flow into the decanter.
6. If any sediment does make it into the decanter, let it stand for a few minutes and settle to the bottom.

Besides sediment there’s another common reason to decant red wine. “Tight” wines (the ones that make you pucker and crave a glass of water) can sometimes benefit from being decanted since the process of transferring the wine from one container to another can aerate the wine so that it goes down more smoothly.



13 Responses to When should you decant wine?

  1. I tend to buy wines that fall under the “drink now” category. I assume decanting is mainly for cellared wines? I like well-balanced reds and rarely buy “tight” wines. So would decanting benefit this kind of wine?

  2. truenorth67 says:

    Thanks for the tips…common sense info to ensure those cherished bottles are fully enjoyed when opened.

  3. Rebekka says:

    What a great post. Thank you! I am always trying desperately to learn more about wine!

  4. Diva says:

    Gorgeous photo. I’ll bet that wine was a beauty too. Great post, Dana!

  5. Rosa says:

    Thanks for the useful info!



  6. Rebecca says:

    I had no idea about standing a bottle up for several hours if it’s been laying on its side, but that makes perfect sense. I always learn something here!

  7. I’m a huge fan of decanting Dana! Not every wine of course, but so many benefit from it. Excellent post 🙂



  8. danamccauley says:

    Glad you hear you all found this post useful!

    Char, you’re right, there’s likely no benefit in decanting the kind of wines you are buying unless you want to add a bit of ceremony to serving them.

  9. Maris says:

    Oh this is great, I’ve always wondered about decanting wine. To be honest, I’ve often thought that it was just for show! Recently at a wine tasting I learned that it really does make a difference in how the wine tastes but I’ve never really known why!

  10. Jackie Hougham says:


    Great blog entry! I have always wanted to include instructions with decanters so customers understand the purpose of decanting and the proper technique.

    I think for many a decanter often becomes a dust collector and is seldom used or is used without understanding what exactly occurs during the ‘deccanting’ process!

    If only today’s blog could be added to every decanter sold… the knowledge people would gain!

  11. Ex Back says:

    The style of writing is quite familiar . Did you write guest posts for other bloggers?

  12. Not that I’m totally impressed, but this is more than I expected when I stumpled upon a link on Digg telling that the info here is awesome. Thanks.

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