Do I Need a Wine Decanter?

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The Spruce Eats / Zackary Angeline

Do you find yourself opening up a nice bottle of red wine (or white, or orange) on a regular basis? Then your answer is simple: owning a decanter is a good idea. While these tall, round pitchers may look like a simple vessel, a proper wine decanter's design works to increase the amount of oxygen exposed to the wine which in turn, improves the taste, mellows out the tannins, and expresses the full potential of fruit and floral aromas. 

But what kind of decanter should you purchase? And, what kind of investment are we looking at? There are a variety of decanters specifically shaped to match white wines and others for bolder, broader reds. Read on to find out what kind of decanter is best for you.

Wine Decanter Lab Test All

The Spruce Eats / Madeline Muzzi

What is a wine decanter?

Essentially, a wine decanter is a glass vessel used to both separate the sediment from the wine and enhance the wine’s flavor through oxygen exposure. Decanters let a wine breathe. If it’s an older bottle, wines often will need time to wake up from their slumber and come into their flavors. Don’t limit decanting to older expressions: young wines and more natural wines can benefit from time outside of the bottle before drinking.

Pro tip: some wines take just a few moments to open up while others need hours. The best way to gauge a wine’s readiness is to decant it and try it every few moments. 

Do I need a wine decanter

The Spruce Eats / Madeline Muzzi

How do you use a wine decanter?

Open a wine as you normally would, slip off the foil, and pull off the cork. Next, tilt both the bottle and the decanter at equal angles and slowly pour the wine into the decanter. If the wine has a layer of sediment at the bottom, keep an eye on the sediment stacking up in the shoulder of the bottle—you don’t want it to end up in the decanter. From there, use the decanter in place of the bottle, topping up every glass straight from the decanter. If the wine needs a chill, fill a large bucket with ice and place the decanter directly in the bucket.

Riedel Merlot Decanter

Riedel Merlot Decanter


What it's best for: Best all-purpose

If you are just getting into decanters, Riedel’s Merlot Decanter is an excellent option for a broad spectrum of wines. While the brand declares it's to be used for medium reds, it’s suitable for young and old wines of all styles. Though the shape is ideal for light-bodied reds and white wines, I’ve used it for old Burgundy reds, skin-contact wines that need time to blow off any bottle shock, and classic French whites. Sure, it’s not the most stately or visually impressive decanter, but it gets the job done and has a minimal footprint when storing. (And, it’s dishwasher safe!)

Le Chateau Wine Decanter

Le Chateau Wine Decanter


What it's best for: Best for old wines

One of the most popular shapes for a wine decanter is one with a long neck and a wide, large-bottom base. At 32 ounces, it’s more than plentiful for a standard 750-milliliter bottle of wine, and the full bottle will be filled to its widest point. Give it a swirl, and the large surface of the base will allow the oxygen to aerate the full bottle of wine. The long neck and wide base allow you to properly control the sediment as you pour it into a glass, while the slanted spout allows for a clean, drip-free pour. Given its size and crystal construction, it’s recommended you hand wash, though it’s dishwasher safe in a pinch.



Not all wine decanters match every style of wine.  If you prefer a full-bodied red wine, like a touriga nacional, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, or petite sirah, look for a large-bottom decanter—it should be similar in shape to a frisbee. White wine and light red, such as pinot noir and beaujolais, decanters are tall and slender, with a similar profile to a wine bottle. Medium-bodied reds, like anything from Penedes or Piedmonte, will shine in a decanter somewhere in the middle. What’s the difference? Wine-to-oxygen ratios. The larger, full-bodied reds generally need more time to open and for the tannins to integrate into the wine. Decanters with a wider base speed up the process.


Outside of the standard curving decanters, there are vessels in quirkier shapes, from porrons to cornetts to large, curving swan decanters. The difference is largely just visuals and heritage. The Spanish swear by porrons while the swan-shaped decanter is more for show, though the striking shape does allow for a neater pour and a more comfortable grip. The biggest difference here, really, is how much you want to spend and what design you prefer.  (That said, brands like Riedel do have hyper-specific decanters crafted exactly to match certain varieties.)

Le Chateau Wine Decanter

The Spruce Eats / Caroline Goldstein


Proceed with caution when purchasing vintage decanters. Often, crystal made at the turn of the century had lead it. It’s since been discovered that lead is poisonous, and when ingested, it can reach toxic levels.

Modern crystal is perfectly safe. Outside of older crystal, approach purchasing a decanter the way you would purchase a wine glass. Whisper-thin, hand-blown crystal falls at the top of the quality scale, though there are plenty of perfectly good machine-blown options.

Should I buy a wine decanter?

Do you drink wine? Are you interested in learning what’s in your glass? If the answer is yes, chances are you’ll benefit from a wine decanter. For starters, decanters will enhance your entire wine-drinking experience. I personally decant almost everything: whites, oranges, light reds and heavier options. I love to explore how a wine will change over the course of its life, and a decanter is a great way to do that.

A decanter is also almost essential if you’re dealing with older bottlings that will need time to open up after years of aging. If you’re at all interested in wine, a decanter is a helpful accessory to have around.

Why Trust The Spruce Eats?

Kate Dingwall is an experienced wine writer and working sommelier, who has her BarSmarts and WSET certification. She has been writing about the bar and spirits world for six years, including extensive coverage on the subject of glassware and bar accessories.