Decanting 101

Evaporation and oxidation begin when you pull cork or twist cap on a bottle of wine. They significantly accelerate when you pour wine into a decanter.

Chemists assert neither evaporation nor oxidation chemically soften tannins, at least not in the minutes or even hours after opening and pouring into a decanter.

White-frocked chemists may have science on their side, but taste buds of wine drinkers consistently report decanting makes wine seem more harmonious and tannins more integrated. What’s going on? Who is right?

Evaporation occurs first. Volatile components dissolve into the surface and then into the air. These components tend to be less desirable taste and smell elements, so their exodus makes wine smoother and more appealing regardless of what happens to tannins.

Oxidation takes longer—hours and days. Scientists concede oxidation eventually softens tannins, but—in the real world—tannins seldom soften on chemical level because of decanting and oxidation. Few wine drinkers are patient or brave enough to decant and wait for a couple of days to see if the wine improves, especially since additional forces may affect wine negatively while you wait for oxygen to do its thing on tannins.

That said, when you decant tannic wine for a couple of hours, there is little question the wine shows differently and usually improves. Oxidation and evaporation makes many wines taste smoother, makes them more aromatic, expressive, integrated. All good things.

Scientists may be able to prove tannins are not significantly affected by normal decanting. Our taste buds rejoice nonetheless. Give decanting a try.


  • Moillard Les Violettes Côtes du Rhône 2009. Delicate floral notes; plum, berries, raspberry; acidity, light body; simple well-made value. $10
  • Alexander Valley Vineyards Two Barrel 2005. Syrah-Merlot equal blend; nice nose, lots of over-ripe fruit; simple, easy-drinker; decant. $15
  • Chateau Potelle VGS Explorer The Illegitimate 2009. Cab-merlot-zin-syrah; rich fruit nose, soft-plush mouth; cherry, cranberry; exotic. $29