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What a wine decanter is, how to use it and the best ones to buy

Every wine connoisseur knows how decanting elevates the entire wine-drinking experience. And while many wine lovers may be well-versed with all things decanters for various wines, here’s a guide for those who have been eager to get one for themselves.

Wine is an experience that grows on you. From taking in the aroma and swirling it in your mouth to feeling the texture and flavour to gulping it down, every step involved in having wine contributes to this unique experience. This is because every ingredient of this beverage has a character of its own despite being a perfect blend. And what further enhances this experience is decanting the wine correctly before drinking it.

What is a wine decanter?

A decanter is a glass (or crystal) vessel that wine is poured into before being served, to bring it in contact with oxygen and aerate it. Typically designed with a long, smaller neck and a rather wide base, it is larger than a wine bottle. This allows the wine to breathe, which transforms its complexities, flavour and aroma. By letting it sit in a larger surface area to increase its oxidation process, a decanter helps in opening up the wine and enhancing its taste.

Additionally, decanting helps in separating the sediments of the wine (especially, older reds), softening its tannins, and reducing its bitter and astringent flavours.

Man holding a wine decanter
Image: Courtesy Pavel Danilyuk/Pexels

How to use a wine decanter?

Before pouring wine into a decanter, allow the bottle to stand upright on a flat surface, without moving it, for at least 24 hours. This is to ensure that the sediments in the liquid settle at the bottom, making it easier to separate them when poured.

Start by holding the bottle only slightly tilted and slowly pouring the wine into the decanter. Try to keep the bottom of the bottle low to prevent the sediment from getting disturbed and reaching the neck of the bottle.

Keep pouring the wine slowly yet steadily. If you notice the sediment reaching the top (cloudy liquid with specks of dust-like particles), stop pouring and hold the bottle back upright to allow it to settle down before starting again. One way to keep an eye on the sediments is by placing a candle or a torch light under the neck of the bottle on the table below.

When you reach the end, leave a small amount of wine in the bottle; otherwise, the sediments can end up in the decanter.

Anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour is sufficient to decant a wine, depending on its age and structure. While younger wines need more time to breathe, older wines (owing to their complexity) need not be decanted for more than 30 minutes. Similarly, 15 to 20 minutes would be enough to decant a white wine as compared to red wine.

Once decanted, you can either finish the wine or store it in the decanter itself (if it has an airtight cork or stopper) or pour it back into the bottle (cleaned and rinsed of the residue), and consume it within two to three days.

Pouring white wine in a decanter
Image: Courtesy Cottonbro Studio/Pexels

Types of wine decanters and choosing the best ones

Decanters vary based on their shapes and sizes, and the following are the types.

Standard — a classic-shaped wine decanter with a wide circular base and a tall spout.

Swan-shaped — a U-shaped vessel with two spouts (narrow and wide) that can be used both as a handle or a spout for pouring.

Duck-shaped — as the name suggests, this type of wine decanter is in the shape of a duck with a spout and a narrow handle.

Cornett — a modest-sized decanter with a long and slender spout with a narrower base as compared to a standard decanter.

Snail-shaped — a wide-base decanter with a long, narrow neck and a hole in the centre for grip.

Decanter with strainer — ideal for aged wine with a lot of sediments, as the strainer acts as an additional filtering layer.

Small-sized — perfect for small- and light-bodied red wines and even rosé or white wines.

Medium-sized — best suited for medium-bodied red wine and can decant up to one standard-sized bottle of wine.

Large-sized — ideal for full-bodied red wines. While they can hold a large quantity, it is recommended to decant not more than 1.5 litres of wine in one go.

Other types of decanters and decanting tools include an electric decanter (which passes air through a tube inside the decanter to speed up the process) and an aerator (a small device that can be attached to the bottle or placed above the wine glass to help wine breathe).

How to clean wine decanters

Cleaning a wine decanter properly is as important as using one. This is because the vessel can accumulate deposits at the bottom over time (even after rinsing). Moreover, what you use to clean it with could also affect the wine. Hence, here are some ways to clean it.

  • After every use, rinse it thoroughly to avoid deposits or staining. But avoid using dish soap as well, as it may also leave residue and impact the flavour of the wine when poured into the decanter.
  • Use tools like a decanter cleaning brush made of flexible foam and a long stem. Alternatively, you can also use stainless steel cleaning beads (small balls) that you can swirl around with warm water in the decanter. The beads absorb the residue like a sponge. Additionally, these beads can also be cleaned and reused for the next wash.
  • Mix some crushed ice and salt in the decanter and lightly shake and swirl it. This combination acts like a scrubbing brush, cleansing the insides of the decanter. Rinse with regular water, and let it air dry.
  • You can also use a mix of white vinegar and water to rinse the decanter, followed by a thorough wash with regular water.
  • Invest in a decanter drying stand that allows you to hang it upside down, without blocking the airflow to let it dry completely. This can help you avoid any watermarks.

Here are some of the best wine decanters to invest in

(Prices of the products mentioned in the story are subject to change.)

(Hero Image: Courtesy Rdne Stock Project/Pexels ; Featured Image: Courtesy Pavel Danilyuk/Pexels)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Question: Does red wine go bad in a decanter?

Answer: No, red wine does not go bad in a decanter. However, once poured into it, the wine should be consumed within two to three days. Otherwise, it can become over-aerated and lose its aroma and flavour.

Question: Is a wine decanter worth buying?

Answer: Decanting wine elevates your overall wine-drinking experience by enhancing the beverage's flavour and aroma. While some people have a taste for only decanted wine, many others prefer theirs directly from the bottle. And no matter which side you’re on, if you prefer decanting your wine, you won’t be disappointed.

Question: Does decanted wine taste better?

Answer: Yes, decanted wine tastes better owing to enhanced flavours and aroma. However, it is also essential to ensure you don’t over decant your wine as that can affect its flavour and structure.

Question: What kind of wine needs a decanter?

Answer: Almost all wines can be decanted, be it young or old or red, white or rosé. However, young red wines benefit the most from decanting as their tannins (sediments that make a wine bitter and astringent) are more intense and are smoothened out in the process.

Question: How long can wine sit in a decanter?

Answer: You can let your wine sit in a decanter for about 15 minutes to an hour before enjoying it. Once decanted, you can store it in its original bottle (thoroughly rinsed of its sediments) or the decanter for two-three days with its stopper screwed back.

What a wine decanter is, how to use it and the best ones to buy

With an academic background in Public Relations, Divya has a flair for writing about topics spanning genres like lifestyle, beauty, fashion, travel, FnB, tech and entertainment. She fancies everything that's a wholesome blend of contemporary finery and timelessness. Quirky earrings and tees are her weakness. When not creating content, you will find her devouring food, snuggling in with a book and a cup-a-chai, admiring skies or revisiting Hogwarts.


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