By Alyssa Clough

Published on June 8, 2016

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Photography by @WINC

Sometimes, pouring wine into a glass instead of straight into your mouth feels like an accomplishment (we’ve all had those days). But there are occasions that call for an extra step. And we’re not talking about crafting cocktails or bringing out the blender, though those are great options as well… We’re talking about decanting, a habit we should all be practicing for the benefit of our own—and others’—tastebuds. Keep reading for a guide to decanting wine, courtesy of Katie Owen, Wine Director of WINC, that will not only impress your friends at your next dinner party, but will change the way you drink wine no matter who’s around.

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decanting serves two purposes: to remove the sediment…

Have you ever tasted wine with a more gritty texture? That’s sediment. It is characteristic of older bottles of wine, but can appear in newly vintaged wines as well. Owen says pouring the wine—sans sediment—into a new vessel will leave you with a cleaner, smoother wine.

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…and to let your wine breathe

C’mon, give your wine some air! Owen says, “When decanting to give the wine some air, oxygen interacts with the aroma and flavor compounds in the wine to become more active, or ‘open up’ over time. It’s the same reason you swirl the wine in the glass before you smell or taste it.”

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which can really change the flavor

Don’t believe us? Try if for yourself. According to Owen, “The best way to experience this is to try the wine right when you first open it, and then gradually enjoy some of it over time in the decanter, say 20 minutes in… An hour… Two hours… etc. If you have the patience for it, it’s really fun to watch the wine change and develop over time.”

Sounds like a game we’re interested in playing. 

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older wines should be decanted more carefully

Their flavors change more rapidly AND they need to be transported with more care to avoid unsettling the sediment. 

Owen says, “If the wine is an older vintage (10+ years old), I wouldn’t put it in a decanter for too long before serving. Maybe just an hour before serving. If it’s a very old wine, I’ll often just uncork it 20 to 30 minutes before serving and not decant it. (If you’re alright with the sediment, this is a safe way to play it). A very old wine can die quickly with too much oxygen, and if you’re pulling out a particularly special wine that has spent years slumbering in the cellar, that would be heartbreaking.”

Dealing with the sediment is another issue. Owen pointed out that the bottle should be carried the same way it was stored, which means if it was stored on its side, you should carry it home that way to avoid stirring up the bottle—and the same goes for pouring.

Owen also reminded us that, “You’ll also need a light source under the neck of the bottle if it’s in dark glass to be able to see when the sediment is about to be poured into your glass—and stop pouring just before that happens. It’s a complex process, but when it works, it works!”

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you can decant both red and white wines

Though most people only decant their reds, Owen says she has “drunk fuller-bodied whites that have benefited greatly from decanting.” The drink she suggests you don’t decant? Champagne. It makes the bubbles die down faster, which is half the fun! 

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any vessel can serve as a decanter

Including decanters purchased for liquor and pitchers or carafes you use for serving a variety of other beverages. In terms of ideal shapes, she says decanters with a “wider, larger bottom would allow for better oxygen intake”, but not to worry if you favor slimmer designs. 

More important than the design is the cleanliness of the decanter. If your decanter stinks of whiskey or is at all dusty, give it a good rinse or wipe-down with a microfiber-like towel before pouring your wine in. Priming your decanter with a splash of wine is an important step most people don’t consider.

Owen says, “Pour in a splash, and swirl the decanter around every which way so that a little bit of wine hits each part of the surface. Then, pour that taste into a glass and taste the wine. Lastly, pour the rest of the bottle into the newly primed and wonderfully smelling decanter.”

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double decanting is a thing

Yes, you can decant your wine not once, but twice. Don’t fret, you only need one decanter!

According to Owen, “If you forget to decant a young wine and are disappointed when you first taste it, you can always double decant it—meaning that you pour it into a decanter (don’t be afraid to give it a little splash on it’s way in), and then pour it right back into the bottle.”

One thing you will for sure want to have on hand: A funnel. Attempting to pour your wine from the decanter back into the bottle will get messy if you attempt without one. 

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do NOT let your wine sit overnight

How long you leave your wine in the decanter matters, as we touched on earlier. So if you don’t plan on drinking the whole bottle, don’t pour the entire bottle! Storing your wine in a decanter is not advised, as the flavors will die.

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decanting works no matter the price point

Though it can be more beneficial for aged wines, that doesn’t mean you should be skipping the decanting process for your younger (aka $10) bottles of wine. Owen suggests definitely decanting young red wines, decanting old wines—carefully—and decanting very old red wines at your own risk. She says, “I don’t always decant, but it’s definitely top of mind when I open something special.”

Convinced? Time to shop 32 decanters every bar needs (but very few have).