The Anatomy of a Wine Decanter

Written by Kymberlie Quong-Charles

Wine decanting is practice that, while not absolutely necessary, is a simple act that can elevate the experience of drinking many wines and doesn’t require extensive knowledge or particular skill to do well.  To learn about the purpose of decanting we spoke to Vilma Mazaite, an Advanced Sommelier and former director of the wine program at laV Restaurant and Wine Bar in Austin where she gained national recognition.  

Turnco Wine Decanter with Walnut Wooden Stopper

Shown here Turnco Wine Decanter


What does it mean to decant wine.  Why should we do it?  

Decanting simply means to pour from one vessel to another.  One pours wine from the bottle in which it has been aged into another vessel before serving.  When fermenting red wine, the remains of solid pieces of grape as well as natural chemical bonding processes create a sediment that settles to the bottom and sides of a wine bottle.  The sediment is completely harmless but most consider it unpleasant.  Historically, decanting was employed to separate the sediment by carefully pouring wine into a different vessel and stopping before bits of sediment got caught up in the stream.  Most wines these days are clearer and more filtered than wines in the past, so decanting is now principally employed for aerating wine, or allowing it to “breathe.”  Doing so allows the full expression of a wine’s flavors and aromas to be released before serving.  These characteristics are suppressed when a wine is cooped up in a bottle.    

Tell me about the anatomy of a wine decanter.  What are its various parts and what are they used for?

Wine decanters can vary in shape and size but they generally are comprised of a bowl at the bottom and a long neck.  Wine decanters in particular do not have a top, but decanters for spirits often do.  You may see decanters in shapes that resemble animals or other abstract designs; these variations are mostly about aesthetic preference.  The bowl part of a wine decanter is where its main function is realized; to expose wine to oxygen, thereby releasing its flavor and aroma.  The ratio of a wine’s surface area to oxygen will determine how quickly and thoroughly this chemical process takes place, which is why decanting is preferred over allowing wine to breathe while still in a bottle where its surface area-to-oxygen ratio is much smaller.

What are the advantages and disadvantages decanting red wine?

Generally speaking, the red wines that are available to a consumer market are all appropriate for decanting.  While it is an extra step, it’s an easy one to take and doing so can add a flair and elegance to your dining table and drinking experience.  If you happen to be drinking an extremely old wine or one that is particularly fragile, you would not want to decant it because its chemistry may be too unstable and you could actually ruin its flavor.  You also want to be mindful not to decant wine that would not be consumed for a long period of time because over-oxidizing will have a similar effect.  Temperature and other environmental factors are other determinants of a wine’s flavor once uncorked. That said, many red wines can be decanted early in the day and served at an evening meal.  Most white wines do not benefit from decanting the way that red wines do, but again, there’s no harm in it and doing so elevates the experience.      

Are all decanters created equal?

The price variations in decanters tend to reflect the quality of the glass, the type of labor used to make them (mass-produced versus hand-blown, for example).  A beautiful decanter made of quality materials can be very affordable.  As wine decanters are functionally similar, there is no need to be concerned with the shape and size.  You should choose a decanter that is aesthetically pleasing to you and one that you’ll enjoy entertaining with.  Wine decanters can also be multi-purpose; you can serve water from them and even spirits if you have one with a removable top.  Makeshift decanters are also perfectly functional for aerating wine in the absence of a dedicated decanter!     


Vilma Mazaite

About Vilma:

Vilma’s passion for wine began at a very early age. She grew up in Lithuania, where no wine is made and beer is king, but her family was always fond of having a bottle of wine with dinner.


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