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Joshua Weatherwax

When and How Long to Decant Wine For Optimal Flavor Profiles

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Learning how to decant wine is a vital skill for any high-end bar owner or sommelier. But, it’s just as important to understand when you should start decanting and what wines benefit the most from the process.

Before we walk you through it, you may find it helpful to understand what are tannins in wine. Essentially, the tannins are the part of the wine that will be most affected by the decanting process and increase the flavor profile in the wine.

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Keep reading to learn how long it takes to decant different types of red wine, whether you should decant white wine, and when to start the process. After, you can read about the average alcohol content of wine and the amounts of sugar in wine.

How Long to Decant Wine

How long to decant wine depends on the type of decanting you’re doing. If you’re shock decanting, most of the benefits take place instantly upon pouring the wine into the decanter and giving it a good swirl. Do not use it for mature aged red wine with sediment on the bottom of the bottle. Shock decanting is very similar to aeration, and the best wine aerators out there will do similar stuff. Here's a good resource for anyone interesting in the differences between aeration and decanting.

Feel free to enjoy the wine after only a few minutes in the decanter, up to about 15–20 minutes. Longer than that isn’t really necessary. If you’re decanting older reds in the traditional manner, ideal decanting is anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours. 

Here’s a helpful list of wine types and how long to decant wine. It’s in line with what most people do. It’s based on regular decanting, not shock decanting. Feel free to experiment with the times, though! How long to decant wine is not set in stone, and the important part is that you end up with a wine you enjoy.

How Long to Decant Red Wine

Red Wine Decanting Time
Zinfandel 30 minutes
Pinot Noir 30–60 minutes
Malbec 30–60 minutes
Cabernet Franc 30–60 minutes
Merlot 30–60 minutes
Barbera 30–60 minutes
Tempranillo 30–60 minutes
Grenache 30–60 minutes
Cabernet Sauvignon 2 hours
Shiraz 2 hours
Sangiovese 2 hours
Medeira 2 hours
Port 2–3 hours
Nebbiolo 3 hours
Barolo 3 hours

Do You Decant White Wine?

White wines don’t usually need to be decanted. And the same goes for rosé. Decanting can upset otherwise okay white wines. The only time to decant a white is if the wine smells off, like eggs or a burnt match. Then it’s okay to decant a white wine or a rosé for about 15 minutes.

When to Decant Wine

There are four main instances when to decant wine:

  1. Decant wine when enjoying an older red wine with sediment on the bottom so the sediment can be removed
  2. Decant younger red wines that need their tannic structure mellowed
  3. Decant (and this is rare) white wines and rosés that have been reduced, or have lost their original bouquet and flavor profile
  4. When you need to bring a red wine temperature up from its storage temperature to its serving temperature (see our wine storage guide for more details)
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Why Decant Wine? 

Why use a wine decanter? Well, you should decant wine for a variety of reasons, five to be precise. We’ve already covered the primary two. Those are aeration and sediment removal. Here’s a breakdown of every purpose a decanter serves, no matter how uncommon that wine decanter purpose may be.

  1. Aeration. Either a shock decant or a normal decant will accelerate oxidation and evaporation, two chemical processes that enhance the desirable flavors and scents of wine.
  2. Sediment removal. As red wines mature, tannin molecules form into long chains and weigh themselves down to the bottom of the bottle forming sediment. Decanters help identify and avoid pouring them. If you have an old, tannic red, your decanter becomes your wine pourer.
  3. To correct reduced white wines. Some whites can smell of sulfur upon cracking them open with your corkscrew. A vigorous splash decant and 15 minutes in a decanter can temper that characteristic of their bouquet.
  4. To warm up wine. Some wines may come out of storage a few degrees below their recommended serving temperature. Which is why many wine collectors use dual-zone refrigerated wine storage cabinets. A few minutes in a decanter raises a wine’s temperature a few degrees.
  5. Because decanting is beautiful. Witnessing the economy of an expert decanter’s movements is impressive on its own. But the crystal and glass decanters being used are works of art themselves. And that’s to say nothing of the way the color of the wine shines through the vessel. The whole process is a wonderful expression of a rich and lively tradition. One which is covered on master sommelier exams and in most sommelier classes.

You know how and why to use a wine decanter. Just make sure to clean the decanter after using it.

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We Decant Believe It

Decanting wine lets you get the most flavor possible out of your collection. But, it’s important to time right or you can end up with a wine that hasn’t reach its peak yet or a dull oxidized wine. Use the chart above and let your tastebuds experience the benefits of a decanter.

You should also spend some time browsing the best wine decanters online and learn how to clean a decanter when all is said and done. For further guidance, you can also pick up some books about wine and learn more than just wine tasting terms

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