To Decant or Not to Decant

November 27, 2008 at 7:25 pm (What we are thinking) (, )

Still being fairly new to wine, one subject – among the many – that I’m still trying to figure out is when should you decant a wine and when should you not decant a wine? It’s a pretty complicated answer with lots of variables, such as age, tannic structure, acidity, etc. There’s no set guideline, but I will try to do my best to give you my take on it.


Decanting wine serves one of two purposes:

1. It removes sediment from a wine

2. It allows a wine to aerate.


Decanting to remove sediment seems pretty easy to understand – wines that are around 10 years or older tend to “throw” sediment – skins, stems, tetrahedral crystal precipitates, etc. etc. No one really wants to drink sediment, so decanting solves that problem. Unfiltered wines may also have sediment in them, so those could use some decanting action. The older, tannic red wines – like a mature Bordeaux or Barolo – may be able to be decanted about an hour before serving and they should hold up nicely (depending on the age). The more delicate older wines, say an older red Burgundy or Chianti, you’ll probably only want to decant right before serving so that it doesn’t die too quickly.


It’s really when to decant younger wines that I find a bit confusing. I get that big, tannic wines such as California Cabs and Australian Shiraz should be decanted, or rather, aerated, to allow them to open up. I’ve experienced this. A crazy big Orin Swift Papillon defiantly needs to be decanted. It’s more the delicate grapes I’m never sure about. For example, last week I bought the 2003 Ghislane Barthod Chambolle-Musigny from Burgundy and took it to dinner with my family. I was a bit distracted with visiting, so I didn’t open it until right before we were about to drink it. It tasted nice, a bit acidic, but it was still really nice. However, about 20 minutes into dinner, the wine dropped the acidity and just rounded out to become this beautiful thing that I didn’t want to end! But by the time that rolled around, I was down to ¾ a glass left and the bottle was empty (there were 5 of us drinking it). I was so sad that I didn’t think to decant it before. But I told myself it’s a Pinot, so it should be fine. I was wrong! As we noticed the pinot rounding out, my aunt and I discussed decanting wine. She told me that she just decants everything now, and I’ve got to say, it doesn’t sound like a bad idea!


In conclusion, these are my condensed thoughts about decanting:

-If drinking an older wine, decant it to get the sediment out.

-If it’s a young, heavy, tannic wine, decanting at least an hour before serving can open it up (some require a few hours!).

-If it’s a young, delicate wine, decanting – but not vigorously – about 15-20 minutes before serving may help round it out a bit.


Now that that is answered, a few side notes about decanting. First, an actual ‘decanter’ is not necessarily needed. Any large, glass container that can hold and pour liquid can be used. Next, decanting should be done only if the entire bottle is going to be drunk. The wine can always go back into the bottle via a funnel, but lots O2 has already gotten to it and it probably won’t last too long. Finally, the price of a wine does not dictate whether or not a wine should be decanted. I’ve had $10 bottles of wine that have benefited just as much from decanting as an $80 has!


Posted by Kelly

1 Comment

  1. Jane said,

    Great post, Kelly! Very informative, especially concerning your experience with the 2003 Barthod…yummm.

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