Serving wine

Decanting Wine

Answers to some of the most commonly asked questions by members

The questions below represent those most commonly posed by Wine Society members. If you can't find what you are looking for here please visit the HELP section. Feel free to leave a question for our team in the comments box at the foot of the page.

How do I decant a wine? And should I?

Why decant?

Decanting – pouring a wine from its bottle into another container, usually a glass carafe – is the best way to maximise the aroma and flavour of a wine. Almost all wines benefit from decanting.

Mature fine wines will develop sediment, solid deposits, during their maturation, and decanting is the best method for removing these. But decanting is just as valuable in bringing out the flavour (and potential) of young wines.

Removing the deposit

If a wine is likely to have a deposit, stand the bottle upright for at least an hour, preferably overnight, before pouring the wine carefully off its sediment. Do this by steadily pouring the wine into a decanter until you see the sediment appear at the bottle's shoulder.

Pouring over a lighted candle is traditional, but hazardous; a torch is safer, or simply pour in a well-lit spot against a white background.

An alternative method is to pour the wine through a filter or sieve or use a decanting funnel. Some people use coffee filters or stockings with a plastic kitchen funnel. Make sure everything is clean, of course!

The wine can be poured back into its rinsed bottle, or 'double decanted'.

Letting the wine 'breathe'

Some say very old, fragile wines will lose much of their perfume by decanting, but others argue some old wines need 'waking up' – you certainly don't want to leave old wines in a decanter for too long.

Younger, more robust wines will, however, welcome the chance to breathe in a decanter for many hours before drinking. Helpful rules of thumb are that the younger the wine, the earlier you decant, and for the vast majority of red wines, it is better to decant than not.

What about whites?

Whites can (and often should) be decanted, too. The Society's Burgundy buyer, Toby Morrhall, says white Burgundies benefit enormously from being decanted for an hour or so, and German producer von Kesselstatt believe that all their wines should be decanted.

Cleaning decanters

To clean a decanter, many believe that a good blast of hot water is enough. If you do use detergent, ensure that every trace is removed. The simplest method of drying them is to let them drain upside down. To remove stubborn bits of sediment, the Magic Balls are ideal.

How should I store wine?

Minimise temperature variation

Not in your kitchen, which will almost certainly be too warm. Wine is best stored in a cool, draught-free and vibration-free environment. A cellar is ideal, but a cupboard under the stairs is fine, as long as the wines are kept out of the light, and temperature variation is kept to a minimum.

The ideal temperature for wine storage is 10°C-13°C, but a few degrees either side is quite safe. In fact, wine kept a little too warm or too cold is infinitely preferable than storing it in a place where the temperature fluctuates wildly.

And it is worth remembering that bottles sealed with cork should be stored horizontally; screwcapped wines do not need to be. But Champagne bottles, despite their cork closure, can be stored vertically, and they will come to no harm. The pressure inside the bottle ensures that the cork will not shrink and dry out.

What type of glasses should I use?

The Society's Tasting Glass The Society's Tasting Glass

The ideal shape

There are wine glasses available for every major grape variety, but that is probably taking matters a little too far. Having said that, the style of wine you are drinking should determine the shape of glass you use.

Swirl and sniff

Full-bodied reds need a glass with a wide-enough bowl so that when you swirl the wine, the aromas have a chance to circulate; conversely, for sparkling wine and Champagne, a slim flute is best, to prevent the bubbles escaping from the glass.

All good wine glasses should have a decent stem, which not only stops the glasses getting covered in fingerprints, but more importantly means that the temperature of the wine won't be affected by the warmth from your hand. The Society's Tasting Glass is ideal.

Cleaning your glassware

When cleaning wine glasses, ensure that each glass is free from detergent residue by rinsing thoroughly until any taint has disappeared. Try to avoid detergent altogether when washing wine glasses; many a wine has been killed by a tainted glass.

Click to view all glassware >

What's the ideal temperature to serve wine at?

Room temperature

The dreaded phrase 'room temperature' is often quoted when discussing wine (usually red), but in reality, it comes from the days before homes had central heating. Most homes are heated to 22°C-25°C, which is simply too warm for red wines.

As a rough guideline, aim for not more than 10°C for lighter whites, 11°C-15°C for more full-bodied whites. Medium reds should not be served above 16°C, while fuller reds are best between 16°C-19°C.

Not ice cold or too warm

It is important not to overchill white wines, which masks flavours (and faults), or to allow reds to get so warm that there is a danger of evaporation.

Some reds need chilling down too

Lighter reds such Beaujolais and pinot noirs will benefit from being popped into the fridge for 30 minutes, or served 'cellar cool'. Remember that all wines quickly warm up with aeration, central heating, and the presence of enthusiastic humanity.

Dessert wines

Sweet wines, like fine dry whites, should be pleasantly cool, but never over-chilled, which strips flavour and dumbs complexity. On the other hand, there is nothing worse than soupy dessert wine. For a detailed guide on serving temperatures for dessert wine see the How to Buy Sweet Wine guide.

What does a 'corked' wine mean?

Diam Corks Diam Corks

A corked wine is one in which the cork (and, in turn, the wine), has been contaminated with TCA (trichloroanisole), a chemical produced by the reaction of cleaning agents in cork production and fungus. Corked wines have a musty, unpleasant smell, and research has shown that around 5% of wines sealed with a cork are affected - to some degree - by TCA (see The Society's guide to wine faults).

Find out about how Diam corks are putting an end to corked wines

What to do if you think you have a corked bottle

If you think a wine you have bought from The Society is corked, we want to hear from you. You can report a problem online by going to your Order History in the My Account section or call Member Services on 01438 741177 or email memberservices@thewinesociety.com.

Is a screwcapped wine inferior to one sealed with cork?

Absolutely not. If anything, a wine sealed with a screwcap should be in perfect condition, because being an inert closure, no oxygen should get into the wine. The vast majority of wines from New Zealand are bottled under screwcap now. Although their suitability for ageing red wines is still disputed, screwcaps are the ideal closure for white wines destined to be drunk young.

Do spirits need to be stored horizontally, like wine?

No. In fact, the higher alcohol level of spirits will harm the cork if kept in prolonged contact, so spirits should be stored vertically. But it should be remembered that once opened, spirits do not have an infinite shelf life; most should be finished within a year or two of being opened.

I have noticed strange crystals in my bottle of wine. Is it faulty?

No. Of course, wine should be clear, and not cloudy or hazy, but occasionally, tartrate crystals will remain in a bottle of wine. These are absolutely harmless, but you may wish to decant the wine to prevent any getting in your glass. Tartaric acid is naturally present in grapes, and if anything, their presence shows that the winemaker has not excessively filtered their wine before bottling.

If you didn't find what you were looking for here please visit the HELP section or leave a question in the comment box below.

Members' Comments (7)

"On those occasions when I am obliged to drink alone, a whole bottle is a shade too much. How long, if at all, is it advisable to keep wine for further drinking if the bottle is securely resealed?"

Mr Keith Stanley (15-Jan-2015)

"Dear Mr Stanley - it does rather depend on the wine, but 2 to 3 days is usually fine for most wines. You could always decant the remains into an empty half or quarter bottle to reduce the amount of ullage in the bottle. I find the vacu-vin system works well for me."

Miss Joanna Goodman (19-Jan-2015)

"Hi, I generally drink my reds over two days, sometimes three. If you pour your glass, then re-cork the wine and put it straight into the fridge. The next day take it out, let it come to room temperature, then pour it when you are ready: you can repeat the process over another night if you wish. Sometimes I'll start a bottle on say a Saturday, and not touch it again until the Monday. The key is to mute the oxygenation of the wine by keeping it... Read more > chilled, then allowing the wine to "chambre" at its leisure; just make sure the wine is re-corked tight enough to stop it dripping in the fridge."

Mr William Laverick (27-Nov-2015)

"One of the best solutions I've found is to decant into a half bottle which has a screwcap or failing that use a 'butlers friend' pronged cork extractor to both open the original bottle and to insert the cork into the half bottle. Both methods have been very successful."

Mr David Woodcock (07-Oct-2016)

"Don't forget the Wine Society offers an excellent range of half-bottles, ideal for us cheerful solitary drinkers!"

Dr Alan James (11-Dec-2015)

"Re corked wine, just a pedantic note: trichloroanisole is not itself a fungus: it is a chemical produced by a fungus."

Dr Robert Cassels (15-Dec-2015)

"Dear Dr Cassels – thanks for the clarification and you are of course correct. We have altered what is said above accordingly."

Joanna Goodman (16-Dec-2015)

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