Mon 22 Dec 2014

Decanting demystified

© Peter Probyn

Decanting demystified © Peter Probyn

Of the many questions our Member Services team get asked, at this time of year, how to decant is one of the more popular. There are two reasons to decant – to remove the deposit (or sediment) from older bottles and vintage port and to aerate the wine. We publish tips on decanting on our Serving Wine page, along with answers to other frequently asked questions, but we thought that we would share the tips below from fellow member David Richards who feels that the whole process is rather over complicated by some. His approach is sound and one that we sometimes adopt (tights are often used instead of filters), what’s critical, of course, is that everything is clean!


Having just bought a couple of cases of The Society’s Côtes-du-Rhône containing tartrate crystals and with the festive season fast approaching, I thought I’d share a tip that never fails. When decanting a wine, there is no need for silver funnels, candles, torches, white backgrounds or whatever other mystical practices you may have read about. All you need is a kitchen-grade plastic funnel and a coffee filter paper of suitable proportions, plus a decanter, of course. No need to stand the bottle upright overnight either.

Pop the funnel into the neck of the decanter, fold the bottom and side of the filter paper over and place it into the funnel, then simply remove the cork and pour the whole thing into the funnel.  You may need to do this in two or three stages to allow the wine to run through. The resultant liquid will be crystal clear, I promise you.

If you are at all nervous when you see the sediment pouring out of the bottle, you can transfer the funnel to a tumbler of sufficient height and allow the final dregs to drain into that, but do not fear, it will be just as clear as the rest. This trick works equally well on a cheap Côtes-du-Rhône or an £80 bottle of port. I have done both. And if you get caught by surprise by a bottle that delivers sediment into your glass when you weren’t expecting it, simply set up the equipment and pour everything through the filter, including what was in the glass. It works a treat and your meal (and drinking pleasure) will barely be interrupted.  Simples!  Go on, give it a try.

Kind Regards

David Richards


>View our tips on serving wine


Categories : Miscellaneous, Port


  1. Derek Fancett says:

    Mr Richards is absolutely spot-on, it’s exactly the same technique that I use with every red wine that I drink, with the possible exception of Beaujolais and very cheap, early drinking, mass market wines – but, of course, Wine Society members would never drink such stuff. The only extra suggestion that I would make was that, if possible, you use unbleached (Important) bamboo fibre filters. The lack of bleach ensures no chlorine flavours in the wine, and the bamboo fibres give good aeration. The only problem that I have found is that, while this type of filter is easily available in France, on a recent trip to England I couldn’t find them anywhere. Filter papers that have ingredients to improve the flavour of coffee must be avoided.
    One interesting extra observation that needs scientific testing is that, in general, the longer the wine takes to get through the filter, the better its quality.

    • Brian Clancy says:

      The other advantage that I have found about decanting red wine, is not just to remove the sediment, but to allow the wine to ‘breath’ more efficiently. I am amazed at how many people just open a bottle of red and start ‘glugging’.

      My very amateurish taste buds frequently tell me that a decanted ‘red’ often tastes even better the next evening – i.e. after 24 hours ‘breathing’. What do other member think?

  2. Reg Birch says:

    Well said David. Agree wholeheartedly with comments – have done this myself for years and it works a treat.

    Merry Christmas to all. Cheers.

    Reg Birch.

  3. Ted Wilson says:

    One problem with David’s method: there’s nothing left to add to the gravy.

  4. David Hill says:

    I tried this and noticed it imparted a hint of paper taste. Maybe it depends on the source of the filter papers.

  5. Will Barraclough says:

    I would also add that you do not really need a decanter (although it is nice on a special occasion). I usually just use another empty wine bottle, then re-decant back into the original bottle after washing it out to remove sediment. This also improves aeration due to the double-decant.

    • Derek Fancett says:

      Another advantage of returning the wine to the bottle is that you can re-seal it using a vacuum device, if you are restrained enough not to drink the whole bottle in one go.

  6. Julian Boyce says:

    I was given, as a gift for Christmas, an aerator. I thought this was a gimic until I tried it. Results are simply amazing.

  7. Gerard Ridgway says:

    Has anyone tried reusable unbleached cotton filters? E.g.

  8. John Middlemiss says:

    One suggestion on the paper. I’m a coffee fiend and when making coffee with any kind of paper filter you always pour hot water through the filter first to prevent the paper taste. Worth trying perhaps.

  9. Mark Brandon says:

    Whilst I accept that David Richards’ suggestion is labour saving I have concerns about the very idea of filtration. My experience over the last fifty years has been that the more that wine is ‘treated’ the less flavour results. It is great now that more and more wines are available un-fined and unfiltered. I would hate to undo their good work by removing any flavour or imparting any foreign taste. I really love the process of decanting, especially vintage port. The art though is to do it without filtering. Leaving the wine standing for 24 hours will be enough to enable this to be done with ease. I use a piece of nylon straining cloth (being a beekeeper) towards the end of the process to pick up when the sediment starts to come over. I then transfer the (silver) funnel to a glass for the residue.

  10. Malcolm Menzies says:

    How about supplying suitable filter papers through the Society shop?

  11. Tony Kerr says:

    I was given a red wine aerator for Christmas, ( It does the job well and negates the need to find non tasting filters.

  12. Rodney Lees says:

    I have used this method for years and agree with most of the comments but I think it is better to decant as much of a bottle “normally” and then put the sediment only through the filter. With Port I find that filtering it all takes a little something from the body.

  13. John Manning says:

    I love my Georgian silver funnel; it is all part of the glorious mystique and I use unbleached coffee filter papers – I think I can taste the bleach just as I think I can taste tea bags.

  14. Will Stevens says:

    Just for the sake of contrast, I remember reading about a truly elaborate method of decanting. I’ve never tried it, but here it is for what it’s worth:

    You draw the cork in the ordinary way, then replace it, so that a few millimetres of it are in the neck of the bottle. You then turn the bottle upside down and leave it supported for a few hours in the inverted position. During this time the sediment falls into the neck of the bottle and rests on the cork.

    You then fill a bowl with water, and, keeping the bottle inverted, put the neck into the water. Ease out the cork. Atmospheric pressure keeps the wine in the bottle, but the sediment drops out into the water. Replace the cork and remove the bottle from the water. The wine is now sediment free!

    Well, that’s the theory, but please bear in mind that I’ve never tried it ……

  15. Peter says:

    I have often used a coffee filter paper to strain wine and port, but find that the filter paper clogs up long before I’ve filtered the whole bottle. I assume this is because I am using the wrong grade of filter – can someone offer me guidance?

  16. Stan Fletcher says:

    I use filter papers but I do let the bottle stand up overnight. Then only the last 50ml or so need filtering, which is a lot quicker. However this remaining wine can sometimes be turbid and unfilterable – I have found this with some well-known Bordeaux.

  17. Brian Jolly says:

    I too got an aerator for Christmas – Zazzol – works a treat and is easy to clean and re-assemble.

  18. Piers Colvin says:

    I don’t really agree with David. I think the acid test is to decant the majority of the wine into a decanter using a candle or a torch & put the rest through a filter. The result can be quite surprising. The wine that has been filtered tastes completely different to the decanted wine sometimes being fairly unpleasant.

  19. John Wheaver says:

    It seems a pity when a wine has gone through everything without being filtered it succumbs at the last. All right, I don’t claim I could tell the difference, but some of the pride of the producer has been dismissed. And surely some of the ‘decanting’ – in the French/Italian meaning of remaining still while solids sink – has been lost if it is stirred up just before filtering.
    But I am a lazy ‘decanter’ – in one of the English meanings – and certainly don’t light candles, but just stand a small torch on end. Then I have two spare glasses and am not fussily cautious, but at the first hint of sediment switch to a glass (most of it is safe by then) and when I’m sure of solid matter I just empty the rest into the second glass. A decision can now be made on the status of the first glass – If in doubt drink it. You might drink the second glass and add the first to the ‘decanter’ – in the other English meaning, even though this thing does not do any pouring which is the Latin/Greek meaning.

  20. David Solomon says:

    I’m even more basic – I just line a standard stainless steel kitchen sieve with a sheet of ordinary kitchen paper and pour the whole bottle through that. I ‘invented’ this technique on an occasion when I didn’t have the required 24/48 hours notice to stand a bottle upright etc, and have used it as my standard method ever since.

  21. David Marshall says:

    I bought a cheap decanter from IKEA a few years ago. It’s long since gone but it came with a glass funnel and a metal stainer a bit like a tea strainer which works perfectly

  22. Katharine Hass says:

    All very interesting because what David describes is what we have done for many years. We buy filters from Home brewing/wine making suppliers which make a much better cone in the funnel than coffee filters.
    Also we have quite a collection of decanters given to us as presents from friends who know our fondness for the grape so decanting gives us a chance to use them.

  23. brian davis says:

    This sounds like a good technique for those that have an uncontrollable tremor, perhaps due to over consumption of alcohol in the past, but why risk changing the character of the wine and adding bleach and extra dioxin when decanting is good fun and hardly requires the skill of a brain surgeon,

  24. Cedric Hennis. says:

    I completely agree with Mark and Brian. Decanting a bottle of wine is a very simple ( and quite enjoyable ) task. It seems an unnecessary complication to add paper filters etc. into the process especially with the risk of altering the taste of the wine. I would recommend standing the bottle upright for 24 or 48 hours beforehand and everything will be straightforward. If the cork breaks, as it may do with vintage port, a small nylon filter can be used initially.
    Cedric Hennis.

  25. Earn Saw says:

    I hear you David but where is all the fun?
    Is it necessary to turn the bottles in the cellar every few months – ? I don’t think so but the process itself can be therapeutic .
    Sometime it’s the journey that matters

Leave a comment