ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

I received a “Wine Breather” decanter as a gift, but the few times I have tried this, I did not like the taste of the wine. Is it possible to “over decant” a wine? Can you drink it right away after this decanting process, or should I wait 30 minutes to an hour first? I recently tried it on one of my favorite wines, thinking it would be much better, and it was a lot more bitter than normal.

—Isaac, Mineola, N.Y.

Dear Isaac,

Great questions. Let’s start with the basics. Start by making sure you never clean your decanter with soap, which can leave a residue and make your wine taste funky. Just use lots of hot water, and if the stains start driving you nuts, you can use some baking soda and one of those flexible brushes that squeak when they rub against the glass. If the stains are really, really bad, then a mild solution of bleach or an effervescent denture cleaner can work, as long as you promise to rinse like crazy afterwards. And rinse again after that.

Can you “over decant” a wine? Yes, but typically, only if it’s old— upwards of 10 or 15 years. When you decant a wine that old, in my experience the flavors can start to fade in as little as 30 minutes. By the way, if you’re decanting an older wine, you’re probably decanting it to separate it from its sediment, so you might want to review the decanting basics. Going back and forth between the bottle and the decanter will give you a gritty wine.

It’s possible that your decanting has done what it’s supposed to do: make the wine more expressive. But in doing that, you may have exposed elements of the wine that you don’t particularly like.

But when you say the decanted wine was more bitter, I suspect that the wine may have a flaw such as the chemical compound TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole), which makes wines taste “corked.” Corky wines can seem musty and muted, and in some cases, even taste bitter, like biting into an aspirin. I don’t always pick up TCA contamination right when the bottle is opened, but after a while—and sometimes, even after just a glass—it starts to become more apparent.

—Dr. Vinny


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