Many wine enthusiasts pull out the decanter automatically after reaching for a bottle of red wine, but not everyone is aware of the benefits associated with aerating white wine.
“Do you aerate white wine?” is one of the most commonly asked questions of sommeliers worldwide, and this guide will break down the benefits of giving white wine some time to “breathe.”
We also take a look at the history of the wine decanter and cover some of the most common shapes and styles on the market today.
Do You Aerate White Wine? What You Need to Know
- Aerating White Wine
- How Long to Decant White Wine
- History of the Wine Decanter
- Different Decanter Styles
1. Aerating White Wine
White wine is rarely decanted by many wine enthusiasts, but sommeliers all over the world recommend aerating certain styles of white wine.
Many whites can be very “reductive” meaning they are not exposed to much oxygen during the wine-making process.
Reductive wines can benefit from an injection of oxygen before serving, and there are often strong aromas and gasses contained in the bottle. Allowing a bottle of white wine to breathe gives these gasses to “blow off” and evaporate before consumption.
Particularly young white wines also benefit from a bit of aeration, as they are often “tightly wound” and do not show their full flavors and character until some oxygen is imparted. Young white wines will benefit from quick aeration poured forcefully.
Tartrates are also contained in some white wines that do not undergo the process of cold stabilization. These tiny harmless particles are often called “wine crystals” by wine enthusiasts and can be separated from the rest of the wine in a decanter, similar to sediment in red wine.
Aeration can be achieved in a number of ways, and with white wine, a decanter often isn’t necessary. White wine can be “long poured” slowly from a higher distance to allow for more oxygen to get into the wine while splashing around in the glass while poured.
Swirling the wine around inside of the glass is another way to oxygenate the wine, and this is usually a sufficient method of aerating most white wines.
2. How Long to Decant White Wine
In general, white wines should be decanted significantly less time than red wines, and there are a number of factors that contribute to the correct aeration time of wine.
Younger, more reductive wines can be decanted for up to 30 minutes, while most whites only need 10 minutes.
White wine is most often stored in a home refrigerator, which is a bit cooler than the optimal cellar temperature for wine to be enjoyed.
Decanting a white wine for 15 to 20 minutes is a great way to oxygenate the wine while allowing it to settle at the best possible serving temperature.
While there is a handful of agreed-upon decanting times and guidelines for different red wine varietals, aeration time for white wines is far more dependent on age than grape varietal. Aged white wines will generally not benefit from aeration.
One of the best practices for finding the best decanting time for a certain bottle of wine requires a bit of trial and error.
Start by pouring a half glass of wine straight after opening, and take tasting notes. Pour half of the bottle into the decanter, and enjoy the first pour.
Pour another half portion after 10 minutes pass, and note any changes in taste profile and body. Repeat the process at 20 minutes, and a final time at 30 minutes.
Taking notes of how the wine changes after aeration is a great way to dial in the proper decanting time for a specific wine.
3. History of the Wine Decanter
The first vessels for holding wine were called amphoras and were used in ancient Egypt. These clay jugs were large and heavy, making them cumbersome and difficult to use when serving wine to royalty at the dinner table.
Early decanters were made of various types of metal, and were primarily used to serve wine tableside. Aeration was not the primary purpose of these early decanters, as clay amphoras were not air-tight and wine was already oxidized.
The Roman empire facilitated the rise of glass blowing, as they invented and worked to perfect the craft. This allowed for glass decanters as well as wine bottles, and glass was found to be the superior material for wine storage.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, glass blowing became far less common, and decanters were generally made out of precious metals like gold, silver, and bronze.
Metal decanters remained the standard until the Venetians came up with the design of the modern glass decanter.
The Venetians found that a decanter shaped with a long thin neck and a winder base and body was the most efficient shape for aerating a bottle of wine.
This wide base allows the wine to “spread out” as more of the wine is exposed to the surface to impart oxygen.
4. Different Decanter Styles
There are a handful of different styles of decanters on the market today, and certain types are better suited for different styles of wine.
As a general rule, the largest and widest decanters are best for full-bodied wines, while smaller decanters are better suited for light-bodied wines.
While there are a number of different extravagant shapes and styles of wine decanter, each will be similar in terms of performance, and wine can be aerated without the use of a proper decanter.
Most high-priced decanters are mostly for show and art, as they are not any more effective than an affordable decanter.
In fact, any bowl or household container can be used as a decanter, and it is even possible to decant wine directly in the glass.
Crystal and borosilicate glass are the most durable materials used today, allowing designers to make them with thinner walls in a variety of intricate shapes. While these upscale decanters look very impressive at a dinner party, they can be very tough to clean and maintain.