Most red wines need decanting. You can also decant affordable wines to improve the flavor. Decanting times range 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 wine. Since every wine is different, check your wine periodically for ‘doneness.’
How Long to Decant Wine?
Most of us drink red wines in the 2–10 year mark, so the following advice is tailored to regular drinking habits.
- 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)
- Petite Sirah: 2 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)
- Dão and Douro Reds: 2–3 hours
- Syrah/Shiraz: 2–3 hours
- 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 hurt. 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.
“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
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- 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.
- Wine aerators are faster than decanters but are not advisable for aged wines.
- Hyper-decanting (wine in a blender) has been shown to greatly improve the aromas and flavors on bold red wines as well as affordable wines.
- Learn how to decant an unfiltered wine over a candle (or even a smart phone flashlight).
- 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.
- Once a wine is decanted it can’t be undone.
- Most red wines last just 12–18 hours after being decanted.
How to tell if your wine is ready
This advice is more about how to adapt your expectations by tasting the wine before you start decanting to get a control. If the wine tastes great early on, drink it!
- 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)
- Not Ready? If the wine is ready it will be noticeably more pleasant and aromatic. You should be able to smell fruit flavors. You’ll know that it’s ready because you’ll have a control. 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 (for you wine geeks: volatile acidity). Acetic acid is the very same acid in vinegar, which has a sharp flavor and will burn your nose and throat.
Wine not listed above?
- Old Red Wine:
- 20+ year old dry wines show best decanted 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.
- Full Bodied Reds:
- Wines like Aglianico, Barbera, Charbono, Sagrantino and other high tannin red wines that are nearly opaque with color will need longer decanting times of 3+ hours.
- Medium Reds:
- Bonarda, Cabernet Franc, Dolcetto, Montepuliciano, Lagrein and other medium bodied red wines that have semi-translucent color and medium tannins (and often high acidity) can be decanted for 1 hour.
- If you feel like the bubbles take away from the flavor of fine young vintage Champagne, try serving it in a coupe glass or globe-style aromatic (i.e. Burgundy) glass.
Have more questions on the minutia of decanting? Leave a comment below!