The Best Wine Decanter Is a Piece of Lab Equipment

You should probably be decanting more, and the Erlenmeyer flask is a great way to do it

rjioja red wine in an Erlenmeyer flask
A vintage Rioja gets some air in an Erlenmeyer flask.Thomas Payne

Virtually all wine drinkers could benefit from decanting their wines. The classic case is an aged red, when the wine needs to be separated from the sediment that has developed in the bottom of the bottle. But that’s only one example; many wines are decanted for another reason: aeration. Any brawny, tannic young red wine—the kind that dries your mouth—could use a few hours or even a day in a decanter. Some natural wines come out of the bottle with a little funk that will eventually blow off. And even certain white wines improve with decanting. Mosel rieslings, for instance, sometimes have a sulfurous struck-match smell when they’re first opened—a couple hours can coax out some much more pleasant fruity-mineral aromas.

Truthfully, a decanter does not have to do much beyond hold a bottle of wine and not tip over. But a one-liter Erlenmeyer flask, a flat-bottomed conical vessel named after the German chemist who invented it in the middle of the 19th century, does an excellent job at that. I got the idea at Whisk, a fancy kitchenware store in Brooklyn, but this has been percolating among wine nerds for years, including in the New York Times.

I won't blame you if you spring for a beautiful and blingy decanter like the Zalto Axium. But I enjoy using the Erlenmeyer because it's not marketed to wine drinkers. There are so many silly gadgets out there, as if you can't enjoy a bottle without a contraption that aerates the wine as you pour, or as if a bottle will turn into vinegar within hours unless it's preserved in a vacuum or coated in argon gas.

Nobody needs any of this. Decanting is the best way to aerate wines, period. And decanting them and paying attention—getting to know how your favorite bottles respond to a little air—is an ideal way to solve the problem of not finishing a bottle in one night. You’ll quickly discover that while some wines go off overnight, others can sit in a cool place for days while still tasting great. Those are the ones to open when you’re not sure you’ll be able to polish off a whole bottle.

All you need is a $16 piece of lab equipment.