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What Is a Wine Decanter | What Is a Wine Decanter Used For?

By
Joshua Weatherwax
Table of Contents

Learning how to decant wine is a vital skill for any high-end bar owner or sommelier. But, first, you need to understand what a decanter is and why you should be using one.

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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. They are also more prevalent in red wine types.

Keep reading to learn what a wine decanter is, what it's used for, and why you should be decanting wine.

What Is a Wine Decanter?

A wine decanter is a container, often made of glass or crystal, that wine is poured into for the purpose of increasing the amount of surface area a wine has exposed. This causes the wine to interact with more oxygen than it normally would. The exposure to oxygen amplifies the oxidation process, which softens a wine’s tannins, tempers the alcoholic character of a wine’s ethanol, and helps a wine’s sulfur-smelling sulfites evaporate. Essentially, many wines taste and smell a lot better after decanting without lowering the sugar in wine or the wine alcohol content.

Decanters range in size and shape, but are generally capable of decanting an entire bottle of wine at once. This is only true of the standard wine bottle, not more unique wine bottle sizes. So, you may need to decant that Magnum bottle in two parts.

It's also important to note that there are major differences between a wine aerator vs decanter. Like decanters, aerators are used to oxidize wine and accentuate the flavor profile. However, decanters are intended for letting wine set for a longer period of time than an aerator. This is evident in the many aerators that are built into wine pourers. If you're looking to maximize the tastes and aromas and have time to spare, a decanter is the way to go.

What Is a Wine Decanter Used For?

Wine decanters are used to intentionally kickstart the oxidation process in wine and draw out complex flavors. It does this by increasing the surface area of the wine so oxygen can bond with as many molecules as possible. This isn't a novel idea as wine glasses themselves are designed to increase a wine’s surface area. But they also have smaller openings intended for drinking, so only a limited amount of wine can be exposed to oxygen. A wine decanter takes a glass’s aeration to the next level. Their unique shapes specifically maximize the areas where wine can rush and flow. They also help bring the red wine temperature to room temperature, which is ideal for serving to customers and guests.

Wine decanters also make it easier to serve aged wines, usually reds, with sediment without pouring that sediment into a wine glass. If there’s any chance you're going to open a wine bottle that has sediment in it, let the wine stand upright for 12–16 hours for the sediment to settle. Do this before using a decanter or the decanter may not fully clear the wine before service..

It's also important to note that wine bottles themselves also limit oxidation, so decanters may be necessary to bring a very old wine to life. For example, wine bottles are often tinted by design to minimize the risk of bottle shock and damage from direct light. But having your wine in a crystal-clear vessel makes it much easier to see the sediment. Also, the lip of many decanters is specifically intended to capture sediment while pouring wine before it goes into the glass.

Why Do You Use a Decanter?

Using a decanter serves just one purpose, enhancing the flavor of wine. It's really that simple. That's why the primary reason to use a decanter is to ensure a bottle of wine is consumed in the best possible state. If you run a high-end bar or are just a wine connoisseur, you probably have a wine cellar full of wines that should be decanted prior to serving. In fact, many vintners expect their wine varietals to be decanted so you can truly appreciate the complexity of flavor that they worked to achieve.

The bigger issue is when to decant wine and how long to decant wine. Generally, decanting should only be done on higher-quality vintages and aged wine. These wines can be decanted anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours to draw out as much depth as possible. If you don't have that much time, 15-20 minutes is also acceptable. You shouldn't invest the time in decanting newer and less expensive wines because they can lose their flavor more quickly when exposed to the air. Many types of white wine should also not be decanted because they don't have enough tannins to really benefit from it. Instead, an aerator would be recommended.

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It Decant Be Easier

Decanters are some of the most underutilized wine accessories on the market. They can add depth to wine and increase the flavor in a relatively short period of time. If you’re interested in in maximizing the value of a wine, using a decanter is an easy way to do it. It also makes investing in vintage wine worth it.

We also recommend checking out some of the best wine aerators, best wine pourers, or best wine decanters. These tools can all help bring out the flavor in wine and take your wine-drinking experience to the next level.