When and how should you decant wine?

Written by Marjorie Cropp

Whether you have a simple carafe or a fancy duck-shaped decanter, decanting wine has more to it than the purpose of looking pretty. Removing sediment and allowing the wine to ‘breathe’ are essentially the main reasons. But which wines actually benefit from decanting?

Big reds

Rich red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah blends, will typically be full bodied and notoriously have lots of (sometimes grippy) tannins. The contact of the air with the wine will develop further its aromas and flavours, as well as softening harsh tannins, especially in young wines. These young wines will benefit from being decanted a few hours before being served.

There is a bit of a debate around decanting old wines. Some say they can lose their perfume by decanting, while others argue old wines need 'waking up' – you certainly do not want to leave old wines in a decanter for too long.


Some older, or unfiltered and natural wines, and most definitely styles such as Vintage Ports, will have sediments. If you are unsure about the presence of sediments in a wine, simply place the bottle near a bright light and look through the bottle to check for deposit. Then, leave the bottle either upright or on its side (in a breadbasket for example) for at least an hour so before pouring the wine slowly off the sediment. Often sommeliers will use a candle to check for sediments going though the neck of the bottle, so they know when to stop. Another solution is to use a funnel, with a muslin cloth or coffee filter, to ensure all sediments are left behind.

Double decanting

If you do not have a decanter, or if you are serving a magnum/any  large format bottle which would be too big for a decanter, you can opt for ‘double decanting.’ This simply refers to pouring the wine into a jug to ‘open up’ the wine, and then pour it back into the bottle. In this case, maybe give the bottle a quick rinse, to clean it of any sediments. A very practical technique, especially for large parties, when the supply of decanters can run short.

What about white wines?

Although not massively common, you can absolutely decant white wines, especially rich wines such as White Burgundies or aromatic Gewürztraminers. Just like for a red, the fact of decanting will enhance the aromas and flavours of the wine. Be careful not to over chill the decanter  by leaving it in ice for too long.

How do I look after my decanter?

Avoid using dishwashers to clean your decanters – the risk is that it would leave some chemical residue. The best way is to thoroughly rinse with hot water and draining upside down.

Stains can be removed using white vinegar and bi carb with a splash of warm water, but it will need a really good rinse afterwards, to remove any sort of residue. Another way to avoid stains is to simply keep your decanter filled up with water until you need it.