How to buy... a decanter If you're the type who buys wine based on price - that is, whether it's $50 a bottle or less - you're probably not going to need or want a decanter. They can be useful, though, and even if you don't decant wines on a regular basis, you can always use it (at a pinch) as a flower vase. What is it? A clear (almost always) glass (usually) container in which to decant wine. What's it used for? They have two main purposes: for older bottles of wine, and young ones. Old wines usually throw off sediment, which is unpleasant to drink. Prior to decanting, the bottle is left to stand upright so the sediment settles to the bottom. After removing the capsule (around the neck) and the cork, the wine is slowly and carefully poured from the bottle into the decanter. This is usually done in front of a light (traditionally a candle) so the pourer can see the wine in the neck of the bottle; when sediment starts to flow into the neck, it's time to stop pouring. Young red wines are decanted to simulate the ageing process that normally takes years to develop in the bottle. Decanting softens the tannins by forcing the wine to come in contact with a large amount of air quickly. At dinner parties and fancy restaurants, wines are often decanted just because it looks more attractive on the table than an (often dusty) bottle of wine. Sizes: they're big enough to hold one bottle (750ml) or a magnum (1.5 litres). How to clean? There are scrubbing brushes made specifically for decanters but they're hard to use. If your decanter has red wine stains, use a mixture of rough salt (not fine-flaked table salt) and crushed ice. Swirl the mixture in the decanter: the rough flakes of salt will act as a gentle abrasive and scrub away the stains. Rinse the decanter thoroughly. What else? Take care when choosing whether or not to decant very old bottles of wine because they need to be handled gently. If they're decanted, their ethereal 'essence' might dissipate - literally into thin air. It's almost always red wines that are decanted, but you can also decant whites. Just because you don't have a 'proper' wine decanter doesn't mean you can't decant. If you need to, decant into a regular water jug.