How Do I Decant A Bottle Of Wine?


Decanting a bottle of wine may seem daunting at first but, with a little confidence and practice, it is a great addition to your service repertoire and an instant way to add a sense of occasion to any gathering!

First things first, make sure you have a good quality decanter and that it is clean! If you haven't decanted in a while it is best to rinse out your decanter with clean water (only use odourless, hypoallergenic soaps if you need to use a product as any scented products will affect the wine!).

If you're buying a decanter then make sure you choose a model that is easy to pour into, that's easy to pour from and also one that is easy to clean! Some models may look spectacular but their impracticality may add unnecessary stress to your day and even make you avoid decanting altogether...

Decanting like a pro

1. Stand your bottle of wine upright at least a few hours (ideally 24 hours plus but the longer the better) prior to decanting. This will allow the naturally formed sediment to settle at the bottom of the bottle which makes separating it from the wine easier.

2. Remove the capsule or cork from the wine (if your bottle has a foil covering the cork then this should be removed entirely) and gently clean the neck of the bottle to ensure no residue, cork fragments or trapped sediments enter your wine as you decant.

3. Make sure your decanter is clean and dry before using!

4. Put a light source between the bottle and your decanter. As you pour this light source must be directly under the neck of the bottle - this will make it much easier to identify when sediment becomes present in the wine as you pour. *If you are using a candle, make sure the flame is not in direct contact with the bottle as you may burn the labels and / or heat up your wine!

5. Pour slowly and steadily, looking down at the neck of the bottle as you do - pouring slowly is crucial as it will minimise disturbances to the wine in the bottle (preventing the sediment from remixing into the wine). It also makes spotting sediment far easier to spot as you should have a thin stream of wine running through the neck of the bottle at all times.

6. As you get to the bottom half of the wine, pour even more slowly - depending on how well your sediment has separated from the wine you may begin to see traces entering the neck soon...

7. As soon as you see sediment in the neck of the bottle, STOP pouring. This may appear as visible particles in the otherwise clear wine, or it may be that the wine in the neck of the bottle becomes cloudy.

Hopefully you will only have a small amount of wine left in the bottle along with the sediment - if you have a large amount of cloudy wine remaining then, next time, leave your bottles standing upright longer before decanting!

How long should I leave the wine before serving?

A significant proportion of the benefits (aeration) you gain from decanting a wine happen in the initial moments when the wine is poured in to the vessel.

How long you leave it in the decanter depends mainly upon the style of the wine but also its age and your level of patience!

As a general rule; heavier and more full-bodied reds should be left to stand for anywhere between 1 & 3 hours. Medium bodied reds should show the benefits after 30 mins to 1 hour. Lighter reds and rich whites will be good after around 30 minutes. Older wines should be decanted with great caution. It is always best to sample these wines periodically from the decanter to assess when they are at their best - some will come alive after 20 or 30 minutes of moderate aeration while others may take longer. If you have to decant and serve quickly try "double decanting" your wine. This involves decanting the wine as outlined above and then pouring the wine back in to the original bottle (or for wines that have sediment, into a clean decanter or serving bottle). This really helps to open up younger wines that aren't displaying much fruit or floral characteristics.

Pro tip:

If you have not had time to let the bottle rest prior to decanting or if you have suffered the heart wrenching moment of a snapped / crumbled cork then your precious wine is not lost!

There is no shame in filtering your wine whilst decanting. Not only can this ensure that more of the sediment is removed from the wine, it can also save you boat-loads of precious time as well as reducing stress.

There are many ways to do this - though not all of them are suitable for performing in front of Guests...

1. Specially designed metal & nylon filters can be found online and through specialist retailers. They are simple to use and their design ensures that the wine will not react & change it's flavour or body.

2. Oddly enough, I have see many bottles of vintage Port and very old vintages of Bordeaux poured through silk or fine nylon stockings! If you are keen to try this then please make sure that you use a clean pair - ideally new... I'm not sure who started this admittedly odd tradition but it is surprisingly effective.

3. Although some experts disagree, a paper coffee filter is also a great way to remove the 'bits' from your wine without too much fuss. All but the finest sediment will be removed in an instant - just be sure to pick up a clean one to avoid finding excessive coffee aromas in your freshly poured wine!

Stuart Lancaster

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