I saw someone shake a decanter of wine like they were making a cocktail. What's up with that?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I recently observed that some sommeliers pour red wine into a decanter and then shake it vigorously as if they were preparing a cocktail drink! Does this help to aerate the wine better? This looks quite inelegant to me. What is your opinion?

—Philip C., Malaysia

Dear Philip,

Remember that there are two very distinct reasons to decant a wine. Older bottles you should decant gently, as a way to separate the wine from its sediment. Shaking the decanter in this scenario would defeat the purpose.

The other reason for decanting is to aerate a younger wine, and in this case, sure, I’ve been known to give it a swirl or two, especially if I’m familiar with the wine or had a taste of it ahead of time and think it really could use that extra handling. In general, I’m not a fan of overly aggressive aerating, as I’ve fielded other questions about using a food processor or blender. I enjoy seeing how a wine evolves in a glass—I’m not really about conducting science experiments, or adding variables I can’t really control or predict.

When it comes to a sommelier shaking your wine, I think for the most part you can relax and assume they know what they’re doing, and perhaps they’re giving you a bit of a show. But if it were an older wine that should be treated more gently, I’d definitely speak up.

—Dr. Vinny

Serving Wine Decanting Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

What is “reverse osmosis” in relation to wine? How and why is it used?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the science (and the motivation) behind the …

Nov 28, 2022

I need advice on Thanksgiving wines. Which wines pair best with turkey and sides?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers advice on selecting wines for the Thanksgiving …

Nov 21, 2022

What is a “second wine”?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the "second wine" concept and what it means in …

Nov 14, 2022

Is it bad if an old bottle of wine has sediment in it?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains that sediment happens—and how to deal with it.

Nov 7, 2022

Is it OK to change my mind about a wine after I've approved a sommelier to serve it?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains that there's a reason that sommeliers show …

Oct 31, 2022

How should I organize a tasting of 4 wines paired with 4 chocolates?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny offers suggestions for organizing food and …

Oct 24, 2022