Here, five whites that will benefit from an hour in the decanter.

By Charles Antin
Updated May 23, 2017
Wines to Decant
Credit: Courtesy of Domaine Grossot

Sommeliers decant bottles all the time. But though the technique is extremely simple, it tends to provoke anxious questions from the average wine drinker. Which wines should I decant? For how long? Do I need a $500 decanter that looks like a poisonous snake? (Answer: no.) Here's something that might rock your world: Many wine pros even decant white wines before serving. We know—crazy. You'd decant a white for the same reasons you'd decant a red—to pour off any non-wine in the bottle (in the case of whites, the small, harmless yet unpleasant tartrate crystals that sometimes form) and to aerate the wine (which can release aromatics). Here, five whites that will benefit from an hour in the decanter:

1. White Blends from the Rhône Valley
Blends of Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc from France’s Rhône Valley can be frustratingly austere right when you pop the cork. Noah May, a wine auction specialist at Christie’s, suggests that decanting white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, such as Pegau’s ($60) prior to drinking will reveal the aromatics that make these wines so special. “I'm a big fan of decanting white Châteauneuf,” he says. “But really, I find that almost all wines (other than the old and/or frail or very simple) improve if you have time to decant.”

2. Orange Wines
Orange wines are white wines that have been left in contact with the skins for an extended period during vinification. In other words, they’re whites that behave like reds. They’re a big part of the winemaking tradition in places like Georgia (the Republic of) and Friuli. Zachary Sussman, a wine writer, says that, “after a few hours of exposure to air, the wines shed some of their initial tannic bite and blossom into rich, full-bodied and surprisingly food-friendly whites, which often demonstrate a pleasantly oxidative quality, along with notes of dried apricot and honey.” Pheasant’s Tears ($17), made by American Jonathan Wurdeman, is a great introduction to the style.

3. Chenin Blanc
Roark Wine Company Chenin Blanc ($15), made in the Santa Ynez Valley, is inexpensive but has tons of serious Chenin complexity. Steve Morgan, wine director of Chicago hot spot Formento’s, decants it for his patrons. “Once it hits the decanter,” he says, “the fruit explodes with notes of ripe peach and citrus. The wine doesn't lose its dynamic texture but grows in both gulpability and complexity.”

4. White Burgundy
Shawn Paul, general manager at the forthcoming Corkbuzz Charlotte, says Bouchard's Pouilly Fuissé ($28) has intense lemony and white peach flavors that meld together nicely with air. Chablis is the choice for Patrick Cappiello, wine director and partner at Pearl & Ash and the new Bowery wine destination Rebelle. He says even young, inexpensive bottles like those of Jean-Pierre Grossot ($20) benefit from a pour-out: "They're age-worthy wines," he says. "So in their youth, they really benefit from air." If the wine seems reticent to let go of some of its high-toned steely citrus aromas, give it a swirl in the decanter.

5. Sauternes
High-sugar dessert wines typically need age to show their best. That said, air can be a useful substitute for time. Rieussec ($40 for a half bottle) is a great introduction to Sauternes and shows fantastic honeysuckle notes. That said, Sauternes should be served colder than most whites, so be sure not to let the wine warm up in the decanter.