Do I need to aerate wine?

If you have been drinking or learning about wine for any amount of time, there’s a fair chance that you have heard about aerating the wine (or sometimes called allowing the wine to “breathe”). And you may be wondering, do I need to aerate this glass of wine that I am drinking right now?

What does aerating wine do? Well aerating wine, or exposing wine to air involves two different processes: oxidation and evaporation. Through the evaporation process, the volatile compounds (which are undesirable), tend to evaporate first. For example, sulfites are added to wines to help prevent premature oxidation and microbial activity. Sulfites can smell like sulfur and rotten eggs, which most people probably wouldn’t want to encounter in their wine. Through the aeration process, these volatile compounds are encouraged to evaporate and thus improving the taste and smell of the wine.

Back to the question, most red wines (and some red) require, or would benefit from aerating. You don’t have to aerate anything, but if you want to derive the maximum pleasure from a bottle of wine, aeration does help to improve that.

Young wines are known for being the most tannic. Aeration does allow the young wines to mellow a bit giving the wine less of a hard edge. And since the wine is so young, the aeration does help to age the wine faster, which in turn helps to improve the complexity of these younger wines, giving them more flavors. Of course this is no replacement for true aging. And generally, the younger the wine, the more it needs to breathe. A rough rule of thumb would be to give it an hour to let it breathe. This allows the tannins to soften. Of course instead of waiting the hour, one could use one of the many commercial aerators on the market today. My current favorite is the Vinturi Deluxe Red Wine Aerator.

So how does one aerate wine? Just opening the bottle doesn’t provide enough oxygen to allow the wine to “breathe”. One method is to pour the wine into large wine glasses and allow them to sit for about 10 to 20 minutes, which requires a lot of willpower. A really ancient method is to use what’s called a decanter. Decanters are those large glass containers with a large bottom and a narrower neck. They are used sometimes to get rid of sediment, especially for old aged wines such as Vintage Ports. And since the bottom is wider, more of the wine’s surface area is exposed to the air. If you have none of these things, you can also swirl the wine around in the glass as well. This isn’t as effective as the other methods, but it can help expose the wine to more of the air as well.  And finally of course, you can buy an aerator that you pour the wine through.  Sometimes it attaches to the end of the bottle or it could be something that you place in a holder and pour through (like the Vinturi mentioned above).

Which wines to aerate?

Not all wines need to be aerated. These types of wines can benefit from aeration:

  • Young reds with lots of tannins
  • Young reds that are complex and bold
  • Some Burgandy and Bordeaux-based wines (ie. Alsace or Corton-Charlemagne)

And stay away from aeration for these types of wines:

  • Lighter bodied reds (ie. a Chianti or Pinot Noir)
  • Some cheaper reds that were created for quick consumption (as a rule of thumb, these are normally less than $10)
  • Most white wines

So what are you waiting for? It is time to make that bottle of red taste even better!

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