Your boss or charter guest has asked you to decant a bottle of wine. But how long do you decant it for and how do you know which wines should be decanted in the first place? Here is our guide to help you on board!
Most red wines need decanting. The time ranges from about 30 minutes to more than 3 hours depending on the variety and age of the wine.
Here is a list of decanting times for different types of red wine. Most of us drink red wines in the 2–10 year mark, so the following advice is tailored to regular drinking habits. For those older vintages (20+ years) decant immediately before serving. If it’s less, check it periodically by tasting a small sample to see if the tannins have smoothed out and the aromas are more present. “I tend to decant most wines that need decanting just before guests arrive, saving only really old bottles to be decanted just before serving.” Jancis Robinson, wine expert.
• Zinfandel: 30 minutes
• Pinot Noir: 30 minutes (e.g. red Bourgogne)
• Malbec: 1 hour • Grenache/Garnacha Blend: 1 hour (e.g. Côtes du Rhône, Priorat, GSM)
• Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot: 2 hours (e.g. Bordeaux)
• Syrah/Shiraz (e.g. Australia) : 2-3 hours
• Tempranillo: 2 hours (e.g. Rioja, Ribera del Deuro)
• Sangiovese: 2 hours (e.g. Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti)
• Vintage Port & Madeira: 2 hours
• Mourvèdre/Monastrell 2–3 hours (e.g. Bandol)
• Nebbiolo 3+ hours (e.g. Barolo, Barbaresco).
Most white wines don’t need to be decanted, in fact, if the wine is highly aromatic decanting may effect the wine. Occasionally, however, white wines taste funky–like steamed mushrooms– and decanting will fix this! This flavor is common in full-bodied white wines from cooler climates like a white Bourgogne (e.g. Chardonnay). Decant for about 30 minutes. Champagne: If you feel like the bubbles take away from the flavor of fine vintage Champagne, try serving it in a coupe glass or globe-style aromatic (i.e. Burgundy) glass.
• The younger and more tannic, the longer you’ll need to decant.
• Double decanting quickly decants a ‘closed’ red wine. Just pour wine from the decanter back into the bottle and repeat as needed.
• You can swirl your decanter to enhance aeration.
• Wine aerators are faster than decanters but are not advisable for aged wines.
• You can use a stainless steel filter to stop particles from getting into wine.
• Do not heat the wine when you decant it. Wine is sensitive to temperature.
• Most red wines last just 12–18 hours after being decanted.
How to tell if your wine is ready
• Start by tasting it. If there is very little fruit, overly tannic or hard to identify aromas, this means the wine is ‘closed’ and will need decanting.
• Try it again. Decant for the recommended time and taste it again. If the wine hasn’t changed much, keep waiting (30 min.–1 hour)
• If the wine is ready it will be noticeably more pleasant and aromatic. You should be able to smell fruit flavors. If it’s still not ready, try swirling it, double-decanting or aerating it.
How long is too long?
• To put it simply: if it smells like vinegar… it’s been too long!
• In the bottle, wine is practically in a comatose state due to very low oxygen levels. Decanting introduces oxygen, which releases aromas and flavors but it also increases the rate at which chemical reactions occur that cause wine to degrade. When wine degrades, the chemical reactions cause high levels of acetic acid. Acetic acid is the very same acid in vinegar, which has a sharp flavor and will burn your nose and throat.