Decanting your wine may seem like a daunting activity, but the process is more simple than you would imagine. Decanting originated with the need to separate sediment that had formed over time within the wine. Decanting continues to be used for sediment separation, as well as to accentuate the flavor of your wine. Experts recommend you use different types of decanters for different kinds of wine. Each decanter shape serves a different purpose.

Why Decant?

It won't come as much of a surprise to hear that the process of 'decanting' wine gave decanters their name! Decanting began with the need to filter sediment from old wines. Slowly pouring wine from a bottle to a decanter helped keep the sediment at the bottom of the bottle.

Today, people still decant older wines to separate the sediment. While the sediment is harmless, it can poorly affect the taste of the wine, making it bitter.

In younger bottles, sediment doesn't have time to form, and therefore decanting isn't required. It may be desired however -- decanting a young wine can help expose it to oxygen to add more flavor and body to your wine. Decanters aerate the wine, helping open up the taste and smell.

According to Wine Enthusiast, the main reason to decant is to expose the wine to oxygen. This can  release volatile compounds such as hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide. Aerating (exposing the wine to oxygen) helps in releasing these compounds and thus having the wine open up.

When Should You Decant?

When should you decant your wine? According to Food & Wine, you should decant your bottle when it is either young or at its peak maturity. When the bottle is young, decanting is "necessary to allow the otherwise harsh tannins – the chemical compound found in red wines that give them their specific grippy, mouth-puckering quality – to round out and become less severe" (Food & Wine).

Types of Decanters  

There are all manner of decanters for different types of wine. According to Wine Folly, light-bodied, medium-bodied, and full-bodied red wines all have a specific shape of decanter. For full-bodied wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, use a decanter with a broad base. With medium-bodied red wines, such as Merlot, use a medium (or standard) decanter. Finally, with light-bodied red wines, rose, and white wines, use a decanter with a small base.

The size of the base of a decanter affects how the wine is exposed to oxygen. Different wines may need to be in the decanter for longer, such as younger wines, to bring out their full body. While some people may not think about decanting their white wine, sparkling wine, or champagne, there are benefits. However, with these wines, it is essential to use a small based decanter, because too much exposure to oxygen can adversely affect the wine.

Decanters for Full-Bodied Wine

A full bodied glass decanter
A wide based glass decanter

When to use this decanter:
Generally with any wine with an alcohol content greater than 13.5%

Use this decanter with:

  • Zinfandel
  • Syrah
  • Shiraz
  • Malbec
  • Cabernet
  • Merlot

With full-bodied wines, a broader base is recommended so that more of the wine is exposed to oxygen for longer. With heavier wines, you may need to decant for an  extended period to fully open the bottle up.

Decanters for Medium-Bodied Wine

A standard based glass decanter

When to use this decanter:
Generally with wines that have an alcohol content between 12.5%-13.5%

Use this decanter with:

  • French Burgundy
  • Pinot Grigio
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Rose

Medium-bodied wines should be put into a standard decanter, as they may not need to decant for as long. In general, you  would only decant medium-bodied wines for taste preference. It is not necessary, but it may help open up the flavor.

Decanters for Champagne, Light-Bodied, White, and Sparkling Wine

A small based glass decanter

When to use this decanter:
When your wine has an alcohol content less than 12.5%

Use this decanter with:

  • Italian Prosecco
  • Vinho Verde
  • Riesling

Experts suggest a small based decanter for light-bodied wines, especially with sparkling wine and champagne. With these, you need to be careful not to let out too much carbon dioxide- this is what makes the bubbles! You don't typically need to decant white wine or light-bodied wines. However, it is not harmful and may help in opening up older bottles.

Crystal vs. Glass Decanters

Crystal and glass decanters both do the same job. Crystal is stronger than glass. Crystal decanters often feature intricate designs and are thinner than glass decanters. Crystal decanters can also be much more expensive, while glass decanters tend to be more on the budget-friendly side.

Glass

Glass decanters are standard decanters, which have thicker walls and the same general shape.

Crystal

Crystal decanters can have more intricate designs but therefore, can be more fragile.

You may be wondering— can the lead in crystal decanters poison you? The answer, according to a study published in the New York Times, is yes— to an extent. Alcohol can leach lead from crystal decanters and glasses, and then the lead is ingested when you drink your wine. If you use crystal glassware occasionally, it won't harm you much— however it should not turn into an everyday habit.

The Seattle Times stated in a post that EPA standards recommend you are very cautious when it comes to using crystal glasses and decanters. When using crystal stemware, the best practice is to keep your wine in the glass for the duration of a meal—no longer.

Summary

Wine Type Decanter Type
Zinfandel Wide based decanter
Syrah Wide based decanter
Shiraz Wide based decanter
Malbec Wide based decanter
Cabernet Wide based decanter
Merlot Wide based decanter
French Burgundy Standard, medium based decanter
Pinot Grigio Standard, medium based decanter
Sauvignon Blanc Standard, medium based decanter
Rose Standard, medium based decanter
Italian Prosecco Small based decanter
Vinho Verde Small based decanter
Riesling Small based decanter

If you're buying a decanter from your favorite wine specialty shop you can earn points at no cost with Grand Reserve Rewards, so sign-up today.