Serve, store & taste

Decanting, chilling, pouring: Here's how to serve wine

We take a closer look at serving wine, including decanting and the perfect temperature for both reds and whites.

Decanting, chilling, pouring: here's how to serve wine

What is decanting wine?

It’s a way of getting some air to your wine and opening up the flavours and aromas to their full effect by transferring the wine from its bottle to another jug or decanter. Double decanting is then pouring the wine back into its original bottle. Decanting is also a good way of removing any sediment that may have developed especially in older wines.

Should I decant my wine?

Yes. We think you should decant white wine too.

Does my wine need time to breathe?

As a rule younger the wine, the earlier you should decant it, and for most red wines, it’s better to decant than not.

What temperature should I serve white wine?

  • 10°C for lighter white wines (pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, Chablis, grüner veltliner etc)
  • 11-15°C for fuller-bodied whites (oaked chardonnay, viognier, gewurtztraminer etc)

What temperature should I serve red wine?

  • 16°C or below for medium-bodied reds (grenache, Valpolicella, pinot noir
  • 16-19° for full-bodied reds (syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot)

Decanting wine

‘Serving wine’ may sound a bit fusty and theatrical, but it really just refers to the pre-drinking ritual of making sure your wine is releasing as much of its delicious flavour and perfume as possible. And there are some really easy steps you can take to make sure the wine you’ve spent your hard-earned cash on really sings once it gets to the table.

We’ve rounded up the questions we’re asked most often about serving wine, from tips on decanting, to the perfect temperature for serving Champagne.

Should I decant my wine?

The answer is almost always yes. Decanting is just a way of getting more flavour and aromas out of your wine, allowing some air to get to the liquid in the process of pouring from one container (the wine bottle) to another (your decanter). It’s also good for removing sediment from unfiltered wines, aged wines or vintage Port.

And how do I decant wine?

Firstly, you don’t need a crystal decanter, as lovely as they may be. A cheaper version or even a jug will do.

If the wine you’re pouring is likely to have a deposit (eg if the wine is over ten years old, a vintage Port or an unfiltered/natural wine), stand the bottle upright for at least an hour, preferably overnight, before pouring the wine slowly off the sediment. Do this until you see the sediment (or ‘dregs’) appear at the bottle shoulder. Our buyer for Italy, Sebastian Payne suggests ‘don’t waste the dregs - they are excellent in gravy’.

If you don’t trust your judgement after a glass or two, try pouring the wine through a filter or sieve or use a decanting funnel. Some people use coffee filters, a plastic kitchen funnel or even stockings (best to give these all a scrub before using!).

Hmm, my wine still feels like it still needs a bit of extra oomph…

Try double decanting – pouring the wine back into the bottle to open it up a little more.

Should I let my wine breathe?

Young robust wines like the chance to breathe in a decanter so don’t be afraid to do this several hours before drinking.

There’s a bit of a debate around decanting old wines. Some say they’ll lose their perfume by decanting, while others argue old wines need 'waking up' – you certainly don't want to leave old wines in a decanter for too long.

As a rule of thumb the younger the wine, the earlier you decant, and for most red wines, it’s better to decant than not.

What about decanting white wine?

It’s a do from us. White wines can be just as aromatic, full-bodied and complex as red wines. Do them a favour and give them an equal chance to blossom in your glass.

How do I clean my decanter once I’ve used it?

Unless the manufacturer expressly says you can, avoid using a dishwasher. You may get leftover residue from detergents and a lot of decanters are too fragile to take repeated hot machine washes.

Some people think the best method is a good blast of hot water, but if you use washing-up liquid make sure that every trace is removed before you store it. Dry it by draining upside down.

To remove stubborn bits of sediment, try using Magic Balls – these wondrous little spheres are poured into the decanter and given a good swirl around to pick up every last bit of sediment. Also, try and clean your decanter as soon as possible after you’ve washed it to make removing sediment stains much easier.

What's the ideal temperature to serve wine at?

You’ll often hear people say that red wines should be served at room temperature, but in reality this advice comes from the days before homes had central heating. Most homes are heated to 22°C-25°C, which is too warm for red wines.

As a rough guideline:

  • 10°C for lighter white wines
  • 11-15°C for fuller-bodied whites
  • 16°C or below for medium-bodied reds
  • 16-19° for full-bodied reds

Don’t get carried away with over-chilling white wines, which will mask its flavours.

Is it right that some reds are better chilled too?

Yes – weird as it might feel to bung a bottle of red in the fridge, lighter styles such as Beaujolais and pinot noir will benefit from being chilled for 20 minutes, or served 'cellar cool'. Once it’s on the table, wine will quickly warm up with air contact and central heating.

What about serving dessert wines?

Sweet wines, such as Sauternes, should be cool, but never over-chilled, which strips flavour and dumbs complexity. But, no one’s going to thank you for serving them a glass of soupily-warm dessert wine, so keep a wine chiller on hand or re-cork and put in the fridge to keep things cool.

Rosie Allen

The Society's Brand Marketing Manager

Rosie Allen

Rosie joined the team in 2016 and oversees all our content including 1874 magazine and Discovery pages.

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