Breath Of Fresh Air

To breathe or not to breathe, that is the question. Here, Jemmah Kelly demystifies the art of decanting a wine, and explains how this age-old process can still bring out the best in your drop.

The decantation of wine has always been an important part of the wine lover’s repertoire. Simply put, decanting wine refers to the process of transferring the contents of a wine bottle into a separate vessel before serving. While the act of pouring wine from one container to another may sound insignificant, decanting can vastly improve the quality, clarity and most importantly, the taste of a wine.

To begin with, decanting allows wine to separate from its sediment, which if left mixed in with the wine, can result in a harsh bitter flavour, particularly if the wine has been stored for an extended period of time.

Pouring wine into a decanter also allows the wine to aerate as it mixes with oxygen. Many younger wines for example, may not have been fined and filtered, and require aeration to release their tight tannic structure and improve the aroma and taste.

While different wine varieties and vintages will require slightly varied wine decantation techniques, most wine connoisseurs will agree with the following principles.


The question of how long to decant a wine will depend on the age and type of the wine. Many believe certain vintages and varieties should be decanted hours before they are consumed to give extra life, while others are happy to simply swirl a wine around in its glass to stimulate the release of its natural bouquet and see it evolve in the glass.

Unfortunately, there are no definitive rules on this, and like most things, it is usually a matter of personal preference or trial and error. To learn more, experiment different decanting times with the same bottle of wine to see how it evolves.

That said, most wine professionals will agree that wine with sediment should be decanted before serving. Sediment is a combination of yeast, grape skins and other components, and while it is harmless if consumed, it can spoil

the colour and appeal of a wine. Wines more than ten years old, particularly reds, tend to have an excess of solid matter.

Older red wines, in particular strong-flavoured grape varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, accumulate an excess of sediment. Removing this sediment through the decantation process will ensure the taste of the wine is less bitter and the texture is smoother. White wines rarely have sediment, and won’t need to be decanted for this reason.


While the accumulation of sediment isn’t typically a primary concern for younger wines, decanting can still be beneficial as exposure to air often helps develop the natural flavours of the wine and add further complexity.

Allowing air to permeate the surface area breaks up the wine’s tight tannin structure, releasing the wine’s full flavour, while also enhancing its aroma. Normally this process would take years when stored inside a bottle, which is why young red wines, and some white wines, will typically benefit the most from aeration through the decantation process.


While decanting a wine can deliver drastic results, the process itself is a relatively simple one. To decant a wine, remove the entire capsule from around the neck of the bottle so you can see the wine pouring through the neck and check for sediment. If the wine has sediment, remember to allow the bottle to stand for at least one hour, or until the sediment has settled before decanting.

Once the sediment has sunk to the bottom of the bottle, hold the decanter in one hand and the bottle in the other, and with a smooth and steady action, pour the wine into the decanter.

Next, allow the wine to run against the opposite side of the decanter from the bottle, so the wine slips down the inside surface rather than pouring directly into the bottom and foaming the surface of the wine.

Once decanted, the wine is able to come into its own, allowing its true flavours to shine through and enhancing the drinking experience.

Don’t allow older or fragile wines to decant for more than half an hour, while younger full- bodied wines can be left for an hour or more. If you decant a wine for too long, it will be at risk of becoming oxidised (too much air exposure which can cause wine to lose its freshness).


Whatever decanter you decide to use, be sure it is spotless and free from any outside aromas. Today, wine decanters come in a myriad of styles, shapes and sizes. Ranging from traditional shapes such as ship decanters and claret jugs, to modern and elaborate designs, there is a decanter to suit any table arrangement.

That said, most wine experts will agree that glass was and still is the best material for decanters as it does not influence the flavour of the wine. A clear, glass decanter not only shows off the beautiful colour of the wine, but also aerates the wine exceptionally well and pours easily with minimal effort.

When cleaning your decanter, remember to never wash it with detergent as the shape of the vessel can make it very difficult to remove the soapy residue. Instead, try placing it carefully in your dishwasher without any detergent, before rinsing with mineral water to remove any residual chlorine odour it may have picked up.


In this age of advanced winemaking techniques, many will question whether or not the decanting process is still necessary. While this subject will undoubtedly continue to generate debate among wine experts, before you write off decanting as redundant and old-fashioned, consider the benefits decanting offers.

When it comes to wine, certain varietals and vintages can benefit from the decanting process – even if it simply forces you to pause, slow down and appreciate the complex and full flavours of the drop you’re about to taste.