Wine Aeration: The Ultimate Guide

Welcome to my comprehensive guide to wine aeration. Learn everything you need to know about the types of aerators, why aerate wine in the first place and how to do it right.

Wine is a complex drink, that’s for sure; there’s so much to learn about it. Well, what if we told you, there’s an easy way to enhance wine’s flavor and aroma. That’s where aerators come in.

After reading this quick guide, you will be eager to pop open a wine bottle and start experimenting with it. Especially if you have an aerator in hand.

Getting Started with Wine Aeration

Before we dig deep into the science of wine aeration, let’s cover a few handy tips. These will allow you to enjoy your favorite wine even more through aeration.

  • Aeration is more than red wine. Not all wines benefit from aeration, but those that do come in all colors and wine styles. Think young, tannic red wines, but also some white wines.
  • Aeration is not magic. Aeration can’t turn a lousy wine into a good one, but it can elevate a good bottle of wine to heavenly heights.
  • Aeration is not a universal answer. An aerated wine can be more pleasing for some tasters but not others. We all like different things.
  • Aerators are not always expensive but there are many fancy gadgets out there. You don’t need expensive tools to aerate wine.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s explore the exciting world of aerators and what they can do for your favorite wine.

Why Do We Aerate Wine?

Most wine is over 85% water and around 14% alcohol. It’s the 1% remaining that makes wine taste and smell like it does. We’re talking about acids, pigments, tannins and aromatic compounds.

Why do we aerate wine? Sometimes called letting the wine breathe, aerating wine makes the aromatic molecules in wine more volatile, so they are easier to pick up. By allowing the wine to be in contact with air, specifically oxygen, wine becomes more aromatic, expressive and complex.

What is happening is that aerating oxidizes several chemical compounds, changing their composition. A physical process also occurs. When the wine is aerated, aromatic compounds are made fickle. Even certain off odors like matchstick scents from sulfur dissipate with aeration, making the wine smell better.

There’s a catch. We love sticking our noses in a glass of wine for the complex aromas we pick up. Well, some of the subtlest scents, sometimes very appealing, can be lost by aerating wine. Floral and earthbound aromas can be overwhelmed and lost behind the thick layer of fruit aromas released by aeration. For a firsthand approach, let’s now learn how to aerate wine.

How to Aerate Wine?

Let’s explore different ways of aerating wine. Find a method that works for you.

Swirl away. The easiest way of aerating wine is pouring it in your wine glass and swirling it. This causes slow and steady aeration. If you’re not in a hurry, pour and swirl. Swirl between sips as well!

Transfer the wine. For speedier aeration, you can always transfer the wine from the bottle to another vessel, whether a carafe or a decanter. Pour the wine gently for subtle aeration or violently for more noticeable results.

Spout aerators. Then you have dedicated aerators, which come in all shapes and sizes. Spout decanters fit on the wine bottle mouth and allow the wine to splash and swirl in a smaller chamber. Sometimes, the wine finds its way through a filter or a sprinkler that increases the wine’s contact with air.

Pour-over aerators. You’ll also find pour-over aerators, which fit in a decanter. Pour the bottle’s content into the wine aerator and allow it slip through to the vessel below.

Fancy aerators. Some decanters are very sophisticated; a few come with an app for your smartphone. At the end of the day, although some aerators do a better job than others, the best aerators are not necessarily the flashier or more expensive models.

Are aerators and decanters the same thing? Let’s find out.

Wine Aerator vs. Decanter

Red wine being aerated in a wine decanter.
Red wine is aerated in a wine decanter.

Is a wine aerator the same thing as a decanter? No, although they have similar uses. By decanting, we’re talking about separating well-aged wine from its sediments deposited on the bottom of the bottle.

To decant wine, one must pour the liquid from the bottle into a decanter slowly and gently while leaving any deposits behind. Of course, wine with deposits is now rare, and only age-worthy, concentrated wine develops sediments after several years in a cellar.

A decanter can be used as an aerator by transferring the wine from the bottle to the wider decanter. Decanters are often designed to allow a large surface of the wine to be in contact with air. When you decant the wine, you aerate it.

Some wine aerators come with a sediment filter, so you could use specialized aerators to, in a way, decant the wine as well.

It goes without saying that sediments in red wine are harmless; they just make the wine look murky. By the way, unfiltered wine is in vogue, so finding wine with sediments is more frequent now; the perfect excuse to bring out that fancy decanter and put it to good use.

Should I Let The Wine Breathe?

Yes! Letting wine breathe is a great way to aerate it. There are many ways you can do this, but the easiest one is just opening up a bottle and letting it sit for 15-30 minutes before drinking.

The best thing about doing this technique is that there’s no risk of spilling or wasting any wine while also maximizing flavor!

Do You Aerate White Wine?

Yes, you can and should aerate white wine, especially if you sense it could open up a bit. Aeration is common for red wine, which is more concentrated and contains more aromatic molecules to awaken. Still, many types of white wine can benefit from contact with oxygen.

Aerating young red wine is a lovely way of bringing out its fruit aromas, while aged red wine might find aeration too aggressive. White wine will appear to be fruitier after aeration as well, especially if oak-aged.

White wine will appear fruitier after aeration, especially if oak-aged, so aerating oaky Chardonnay, white wines from the French Rhône Valley or high-end white Burgundies is a good idea.

Young and fruity white wines might also benefit from aeration, but you probably won’t notice much of a difference. Keep in mind aerating and decanting wine can increase the liquid’s temperature, and you want to drink white wine on the cold side, so adjust accordingly.

Aerating sparkling wine is less common, not because the wine couldn’t use some aeration, but because the practice deteriorates the wine’s fizz. If you don’t mind losing some effervescence, go ahead and aerate your bubbly wines!

Conclusion: Now You Are a Wine Aeration Expert

In this guide, we’ve talked about the different types of aerators, the science behind aerating wine and why it can make our fermented grape juice much more enjoyable.

We’ve also talked about why aerators differ from decanters and the types of wine that benefit from aeration. Not all wine needs aeration, and you might not always get the results you’re looking for, but aerators are one more tool in your wine belt.

The more tools and knowledge you have, the better you’ll become at serving, sharing and enjoying wine! That’s the best thing about wine; you never stop learning.

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