Have you noticed when you pour a glass of red wine, the wine gets better over time. It starts to smell better; the tannins are softer, and the fruit flavours become more pronounced.
This is because the wine has ‘opened up’ due to the contact with the air. This is the purpose of decanting, which is essentially the process of pouring the contents from one vessel (typically a bottle) into another vessel (typically a decanter). By doing this, you are allowing oxygen to come in contact with the wine to open it up and show at its best.
The other purpose of decanting is to separate the wine from any sediment that develops in the bottle over time.
How long should you decant your wine for?
That will depend on the age of your wine.
Less than 10 years aim to decant it for 1 to 4 hours:
The younger and more tannic the wine, the longer you’ll need to decant. Many young wines can be tight or closed on the nose or palate. When the wine is decanted, it takes in oxygen, which helps open up the aromas and flavours. Don’t leave it too long though as extended decanting can kill the aromatic properties of the wine.
10 to 20 years, decant for 30 minutes to 1 hour:
Don’t decant aged wines for too long. Prior to opening the bottle, the wine is practically in a comatose state due to very low oxygen levels. As well as releasing aromas and flavours, adding oxygen increases the rate at which the chemical reactions that degrade the wine occur. If you decant for too long, you may start to smell vinegar and your wine may develop a sharp flavour.
20 years and older -open immediately before serving:
These wines show best opened immediately before serving, if you wait too long, the amazing aromas and flavours will disappear. If you are decanting to remove sediment it is best done by standing the bottle upright until the sediment falls to the bottom of the bottle. Two days is best, but even thirty minutes helps. Decant gently in one steady stream and stop pouring when you see sediment.
What happens if you decant wine for too long?
Levels of acetic acid increase and a repugnant, vinegar-like smell emerges. This is a good indicator that the wine has gone bad.
Remember, you can always let a wine continue to evolve slowly in your glass so when decanting, it’s better to be cautious. If you are not sure, taste your wine and ask, is there something to be gained from leaving it longer.