Knowing how long to decant wine is an essential skill, whether you’re a casual wine drinker or a serious collector. Nearly all fine wines, especially young ones, benefit from some decanting, as the process releases subtle aromas and flavors.
However, while most wines—young or old, valuable or inexpensive—can be decanted, that doesn’t mean you must, or should, decant every bottle. To find out which wines should be decanted and for how long, follow your eyes and nose, consider the bottle’s age, and make an estimate based on the wine variety and style. This guide will walk you through exactly how long to decant wine so you can enjoy your bottles at their best.
How Long To Decant Wine
To decide how long to decant wine, you should know that there’s a significant difference between decanting young wines vs. older vintages. There’s also a difference in decanting times depending on the wine’s style or flavor profile.
First, look at the wine’s age. The older a wine is, the less time it can safely spend decanting. This is because mature wines start to lose their intense fruit flavors and aromatics over time. Any exposure to air will speed up this flavor loss. That’s not to say that you can’t decant a 20-year-old vintage—you just have to be careful.
Wines that are more than 20 years old should be decanted for less than 30 minutes, if at all. Many of the finest older vintages require no decanting because they generally open up beautifully in the glass without any extra help.
Older wines that naturally have more intensity (like California Cabernet Sauvignon or top-quality Bordeaux) can withstand longer air exposure in a decanter, whereas lighter wines (like Pinot Noir or refreshing whites), can’t tolerate much decanting at all.
Different Styles of Wine
You can also make an educated guess on whether a wine is worth decanting by looking at the wine variety’s typical characteristics. Some styles and varieties of wine are known for decanting well and, in fact, may require some decanting to bring out the full complexity of their flavors and aromas.
Here’s how long to decant wine based on the type of wine you have:
|Style||Examples||How Long To Decant the Wine||Additional Tips|
|High-tannin, bold reds||Cabernet Sauvignon (Harlan Estate)
Syrah (E. Guigal)
|Two hours||Older wines need less decanting|
|Aromatic, light-bodied reds||Pinot Noir (Littorai)||30 minutes to one hour||Taste the wine often while it’s in the decanter to ensure you’re not losing flavor|
|Rich, bold whites||Chardonnay (Domaine Jacques Prieur)||One hour||Only decant if you feel the wine isn’t as aromatic as it should be|
|Young, light whites||Sancerre (Domaine Pascal Cotat)||A few minutes, up to a maximum of 30||These wines rarely need decanting|
|Sparkling wines||Champagne (Louis Roederer)||Under one hour||Champagne rarely needs decanting, but some enthusiasts enjoy how these wines taste after decanting|
Generally, if you’re wondering how long to decant wine, anywhere from half an hour to two hours is a standard amount of time to set aside for the task. So, if you’re planning a party or dinner, be sure to start decanting a little in advance–though not too far in advance. Once you start this process, you can’t put it on pause.
These guidelines will help you estimate how long to decant your wine, but to get a more exact timeframe, it’s important to know why professionals decant wines in the first place.
Why Decanting Is Important
To decide how long to decant wine, you need to know what your goal is for that particular bottle. Decanting isn’t just something wine enthusiasts do to show off the wine or make it easier to pour everyone a glass (although these are bonuses). The real goal of decanting is to bring out the flavor of the wine.
Here are two main reasons why you should consider decanting many of the finest bottles of wine in your collection:
Oxidation Can Change the Wine’s Flavor
When you expose wine to the air in a decanter, oxidation “blows off” some of the unpleasant aromatics in the wine and opens up the more desirable notes.
For instance, high-end white Burgundy can smell like burnt matches when you first uncork the bottle. If you smell burnt matches when you first open the bottle, try decanting the wine for 30 minutes and continue decanting until the scent dissipates. Usually, this aroma will soften in less than an hour, and you’ll be left with more pleasant notes like white peaches and wood spices.
This technique can be used to soften any bitter or astringent notes in red or white wines. While decanting doesn’t always remove these aromas or flavors from a wine, it can push them to the background so they meld into the other complex flavors.
So, if you’re not impressed with a wine on the first sip, try decanting it for a while before passing judgment—the results may surprise you.
Additionally, if you taste a wine and find that it’s a bit too bland or simplistic in flavor, let it sit in the decanter for about an hour. The more the wine makes contact with the air, the more aromatics are released, which improves the way the wine tastes (since so much of taste is dependent on aroma). This is why professional wine critics swirl their wine glasses—they want the wine to release its aromatics around the lip of the glass.
Decanting Helps Separate Sediment From the Wine
As wine ages, solid particles of sediment naturally separate from the liquid. While you can safely drink this sediment, some collectors like to pour older wines into a decanter and leave the sediment behind in the bottle.
The easiest way to separate the wine from its sediment is to set the bottle upright for a few days before you’re ready to serve it. This allows the sediment to sink to the bottom of the bottle. However, some wine enthusiasts prefer not to move the bottle at all, until it’s ready to serve. When the time comes to open it, handle the bottle carefully so you don’t disturb the sediment. Next, hold the bottle up against a light source. This allows you to see where the sediment is resting. Then, when you pour the wine into the decanter, you will know when to stop pouring so most of the sediment is left behind.
Which Wines Benefit the Most From Decanting?
Almost all fine, blue-chip wines benefit from some decanting. This is because they are often deeply complex in flavor, and it can take some time for all of those nuanced notes to appear in the glass. So, if you have an extensive collection of wine like cult California Cabernet, First Growth Bordeaux, Grand Cru Burgundy, Brunello, or Super Tuscans, it’s worth looking into how long to decant your wine.
You can also assess whether your wine needs decanting when you take the first sip. Consider decanting your wine if:
- You taste bitter notes or heavy oak/wood (some young Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is heavily oaked, and this quality softens with some decanting)
- You smell very little when you open the bottle
- The wine tastes overly acidic (young Italian wines made from Sangiovese often have this quality)
- You can only pick out a few notes (the wine lacks complexity)
However, environmental conditions can also alter a wine’s flavor, resulting in some of the characteristics above. For example, if a wine isn’t stored properly, it may lose flavor due to heat exposure. Or, if the wine was recently shipped, it could be suffering from bottle shock, which can take a few days to settle.
This is why it’s so important to keep your fine wine under ideal storage conditions throughout its lifetime. When your wine is properly stored in a professional warehouse, it’s much easier to tell when it needs decanting. You can safely assume the wine wasn’t damaged during storage, so if it tastes more simplistic than you expected, it likely needs some decanting to open up fully.
It’s also useful to keep track of the perfect drinking window for your wine, which you can do using apps like VinCellar. You can even read the latest tasting notes for a specific vintage, which sometimes include decanting recommendations.
A decanter is an essential tool for any collector, especially when you want to drink the world’s rarest wines. These once-in-a-lifetime bottles deserve to be enjoyed at their very best, and a decanter can help you achieve that.
Knowing how long to decant wine for is just as important as having the proper storage. Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.