Decant and Taste the Difference

To decant or not to decant? That is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler to pour one’s wine from the bottle into a beautiful crystal decanter, or suffer the slings and arrows of outraged guests by serving it straight from the bottle - what is the answer?

Putting Shakespeare’s Hamlet aside, there is a serious question to answered as to whether or not decanting wine actually improves anything, and if not then why bother? There is also the question of the difference between decanting and aerating wine, which will be explored here.

What is decanting and why do it?

When a bottle of wine is decanted it is poured from the bottle into another container, usually a proper decanter. In the vast majority of cases it is red wine that is decanted, though it’s perfectly possible to decant a white wine, it is just not done very often. There are two main reasons for decanting red wine: the first is to check, especially in older bottles, that there are no lees in the bottle; if there are then these can be caught during the pouring so there are no gritty bits in the decanted wine; the second reason is to aerate the wine by decanting it into a container that has a larger surface area than the original bottle, giving the wine more contact with oxygen and thus allowing it develop aromas and flavours that might not otherwise be noticed.

The trick is to let the wine sit for a while before tasting it, allowing its character to develop. Sometimes this is referred to as “letting the wine breathe” or “open up”.

What’s the distinction between decanting and aerating?

Although decanting aerates the wine by exposing it to oxygen, the fact that it’s in a vessel and is left in it for a while before drinking is different to just opening a bottle and letting it sit for a time. That procedure will let in some oxygen, but the only bit of wine in contact with it is the bit in the neck, so it won’t have much if any effect. Pouring it into a glass and swirling it around a little before drinking also aerates it, but will not give it the time to develop its distinctiveness.

Does decanting really make a difference?

This is where opinions can diverge because in the end it all comes down to personal taste. There is a strong case from wine experts and sommeliers that decanting wine can make a real difference to the end product. With older wines it gives the opportunity to blow off the cobwebs and allow its hidden notes to blossom, whereas a younger wine that may have some sharp tannin can have those tastes softened by “breathing” in a decanter. In the end, experimenting with tastes is the best way to understand how decanting can make a real difference and improvement to a wine.

Decanter types

Decanters come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from smooth, sleek contemporary designs to vintage and antique lead crystal ones. A wide base is ideal, letting plenty of oxygen get to the wine, and prices can be very reasonable in an antique shop to very expensive for top-end contemporary deign.


This post has been written by Aimee Claire, an enthusiastic, well-educated freelance writer who enjoys writing about all things British. She is currently trying out decanters at home, and loves sharing her knowledge and expertise.


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