Wine is one of the world’s most beloved beverages and deserves nothing short of being enjoyed at its fullest potential. Of course, there are hundreds of devices that promise everything from aeration to sulfite-reducion, but the humble decanter will definitely suffice in “opening” a bottle of vino—or letting in oxygen—so that you can enjoy a glass at its best, every time.
It’s no secret that wine decanters can be quite an expensive investment depending on material and design. To help make the buying process easier and to answer your burning questions, we tapped the expertise of four world-renowned wine professionals: Sofia Flannery, beverage director and sommelier at NYC’s Vinyl Steakhouse; Walker Strangis, owner of Walker Wine Co. and LA’s Walker Wine Locker; Susana Balbo, owner and chief winemaker of Argentina-based Susana Balbo Wines (and Hotels!); and Chrissy Wittmann, senior director of winemaking at The Prisoner Wine Company.
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Why Invest in a Wine Decanter?
Walker Strangis: Decanting is the best method to ease a wine into waking up. There are things you can accomplish only with a decanter that are important for certain types of wine. Long-aging varietals like Nebbiolo and white Burgundy benefit from it greatly. It helps younger vintages develop more complexity, as well as breathe life back into older bottles (think 20 years or more). Decanters help wine become a better version of itself.
Sofia Flannery: Wine is a living thing. The second you open a bottle, you are allowing external factors into the wine for the first time since it was bottled, which will start to make the wine come alive. You can seriously improve the bottle of wine you are drinking tenfold by allowing it to breathe in a decanter. That and it looks sexy on a dinner table.
Chrissy Wittmann: Technically you don’t need a wine aerator or a wine decanter. You can enjoy wine just fine without gadgets. That being said, using a decanter will usually result in a more aromatic wine and will help to soften the tannins.
Susan Balbo: It is a very useful tool to enjoy wines, whether they are aged, organic, or extremely young.
What Does a Wine Decanter Do
SB: In old wines, the main function of the decanter is to separate the lees that have been settled at the bottom during years of aging. After many years in a reductive system, it also provides a bit of oxygen back into the wine allowing it to express itself in a better way. In the case of organic wines, as they do not contain sulfites, they can often be very closed in the bottle because of the way they are made. The decanter allows these wines to breathe and show all their attributes from the very first moment. The same happens with extremely young wines, especially reds, which are usually reduced. When we taste them, we find that the last glass feels different from the first. The decanter allows us to feel the wine with the same expression throughout the tasting process.
SF: lts primary focus is to oxygenate the wine. In older vintages, when you first open the bottle, you might find it tastes and smells a little “stuffed.” That’s because it is. This wine could have been in a bottle for up to 20 years and beyond! Decanting lets oxygen in and allows the wine’s flavors to open and the nose to fully blossom. Another incredible feature of a decanter is it allows you to filter out any cork crumbs or sediment. When you’re near the end of the bottle while pouring into the decanter, really slow down and let the last bit of the wine in the bottle kind of sit in the neck and you’ll catch all the sediment in there, while just getting that beautiful juice in the decanter.
WS: With a decanter, you are coaxing the best traits out of certain wines by aerating them. It’s also ideal for bottles that have been sitting in a wine cellar for a while. Decanters help separate sediment. It is the best way to allow some varietals to open [so that] their nuances express themselves, especially white Burgundy. Not all wine should be decanted, however.
CW: The primary goal of decanting is to aerate the wine. This allows the wine to be exposed to oxygen after being sealed in the bottle and opens up the aromatics (some wines take longer to open up than others). It’s worth noting that most sparkling, white, and rosé wines don’t need to be decanted—it’s generally reserved for reds. No matter the wine, decanters are aesthetically pleasing and beautiful to look at, especially when hosting.
How Does a Wine Decanter’s Shape Influence the Wine?
SF: More intricate shapes like a swan decanter have more travel time from the wine hitting the decanter to when it settles at the bottom. This allows more aeration. You should try to go with a bigger vessel for your more full-bodied wines that need to breathe the most, like Cabernet and Bordeaux. There are a lot of cool shapes and glass-blowing artists doing funky stuff with decanters nowadays, which adds a fun element to this aspect of serving wine.
CW: Wines that need longer to decant—full-bodied reds with high tannins—could benefit somewhat from a decanter with a wider base, as this increases the surface area that has contact with oxygen and speeds the process up. If you aren’t a red wine drinker but would like to use a decanter, you might choose one with a narrower base.
SB: The shape is very important. Ones with a very wide base and a long serving path are preferred. A very important recommendation for a consumer is that the wine should be placed in the decanter very gently, sliding on the wall of the decanter, never directly. This is possible by tilting the decanter while pouring. Then it should be moved very gently or not at all and let the wine breathe naturally.
WS: The truth is, any glass vessel that has a large surface area and can hold an entire bottle of wine will work. You don’t always need an expensive, glamorous, or crystal one. You can use a water pitcher. It doesn’t look as great on the table, but they are completely adequate for the job. You’re welcome to go as ornate and elaborate as you want—they’ll be primarily works of art but not necessarily going to affect the outcome.
Things to Look for While Shopping for a Wine Decanter
CW: Choose a decanter you like and one that’s within your budget—both crystal and glass are fine choices. Note the size of the decanter (most are for 750-milliliter bottles, however, others are for magnums) and seek one that’s easy to fill, pour, and clean. There are many ways to decant wine that don’t necessarily involve a large fancy vessel, so it comes back to aesthetics.
SB: Buying a decanter is a very personal thing and it can often be unfair to consider one better than another. What I would particularly look for is one that has a wide base, a long neck, and a slit in the center.
WS: When it comes to pouring wine as a tableside experience, certain decanters are much better than others. Some shapes are easier to manage and pour well without spilling any of the wine and are generally easier to clean. Think about capacity—most are designed to hold one bottle of wine, so if you’re living that magnum life, go a size up. If your wine has sediment and requires filtering, choose a shape with a wide enough opening that allows you to balance a funnel with cheesecloth. Stay away from the gimmicks of aerating devices and accessories. They abuse the wine and don’t help in any discernible way.
SF: Something that will make pouring easy and the biggest one—easy to clean! You would be surprised how hard it is to clean decanters.
Now that you have the decanter knowledge needed before making a final purchase, it’s time to decide which is best for you. Because decanters have gone beyond practicality and into the realm of intentional design decisions, there are literally thousands you can choose from. So, we’ve scoured the market and relied on the above expertise of four world-renowned sommeliers to present the best decanters you can find. Here are the six top-ranked decanters we love the most.
Best Overall: Brilliant Decanter, $195
Awarded “best design” by the Red Dot Awards in 2022, this mouth-blown, handmade vessel lives up to its name of “brilliant” with a sloped cone bottom that not only makes pouring easy and splash-free but also “enriches the wine with oxygen” as soon as it hits the surface. It’s also quite eye-catching with its unique shape, making it a wonderful addition to any kitchen shelf to be put on full display.
Best Decanter Duo: The Old & Young Wine Decanters, $195+
Old and young wines typically require different decanters and this duo will ensure that any vintage will have the opportunity to breathe. The tall and lean one is perfect for more mature wines while the shorter, wider option is great for younger varietals that require extra aeration. Set them on a dining table side-by-side because let’s be honest: They’re a lot prettier than your standard salt and pepper shaker set.
Best Classic: Vino Wine Decanter, $49.50
Pottery Barn has become synonymous with “classic style” and this best-selling decanter is no exception. It’s timeless yet modern and boasts an asymmetrical spout to ensure a smooth, drip-free flow with every pour. And at less than $50, you don’t feel like you’re breaking the bank.
Best For a Budget: Gnimihz Wine Decanter,
Great wine doesn’t have to cost the arm that opens its bottle’s cork. There are plenty of affordably-priced options like this Gnimihz swan-neck model that doubles as an elegant centerpiece. Made from sturdy and premium crystal, the company even offers a 30-day refund guarantee if it happens to break upon arrival. It also comes with a handy polishing cloth that will allow you to really get into the curves and crevices after each use.
Best To Gift: Arabella Decanter, $59.69
Whether it’s a wedding, birthday, or anniversary, gifting a decanter is a wise choice. And there are plenty of creative and more festive iterations to choose from, like this gold-adorned design from Z Gallerie. The swirls symbolize the swirls you’ll be making with your own wine glass after pouring out the libation and will accent any quartz countertop with swirls of its own.
Best For When You Want To Splurge: Escargot Decanter,
Aside from being functional, high-end decanters also make lovely decor items to fill, but not overwhelm smaller spaces in need of a little pizzazz. Sure, it costs a pretty penny, but it’s also just pretty, and can serve as a statement piece in practically every room of the house.