The Alphabet with Wine: A is for Aeration

Apr 16, 2018 at 11:00 am by Kiffin McCoy-Albert

Watering lawns, setting up aquariums, drinking wine. What do these three things have in common?

The concept of Aeration! While you might be interested in the first two, my expertise (and thus the focus of this article) is in drinking wine.

So, grab a glass (or not) and read on.

Reason to aerate

If you are a red wine drinker, you should definitely be aware of the difference aeration can make to the aroma and flavor when enjoying a glass of your favorite vino. What do I mean?  Aerating wine oxygenates it (uses air) to open up the aromas of the wine and generally softens it. Some terms you might hear in describing the result of aeration are less harsh, softer, smoother, milder, more complex.

Wines to aerate

When you see someone swirling wine in their glass, they aren’t just being pretentious. While they certainly could be pretentious, they are also helping to “open up” the aromas and flavors within their glass.

For most white wines and some light-bodied red wines, this is enough. However, for dry, heavier white wines and most red wines, they need more than a swirl in their glass. The age of the wine also plays a role. Young, tannic wines benefit the most from aeration.

Conversely, aerating a mature/aged wine can cause the flavor to fade. Because most wine consumed these days is "aged" only from point-of-purchase to the dinner or party that evening, you most likely want to aerate at least your bolder reds.

How to aerate

As mentioned, simply swirling is a start but not enough for many wines. Wine can be aerated many ways, but here is an explanation of three common methods:

  • Letting it “Breathe” in the bottle. After uncorking a bottle, it can be left open to allow air into the bottle. The narrow neck of the bottle does not allow for much airflow or an expansion of the surface level of the wine. This method is the least effective and takes the longest.
  • Decanting. Pouring a bottle of wine into a glass decanter allows for oxygenation and expansion of the surface of the wine. This is a beautiful way to display and serve wine with dinner, but it, too, takes time to reach peak aeration. How long is mostly about preference. Some think decanting for 20 or so minutes is enough, I prefer closer to an hour. (This is why I prefer the next method.)
  • Using an Aerator. All kinds of hand-held aerators and some on stands can be found at retailers everywhere. They come in all shapes and sizes. They generally all work similarly, however, by pouring the wine from the bottle, through the aerator, into the glass (or decanter to be fancy). The reason this is a preferred method? It is immediate! Who wants to wait 20 minutes much less an hour between popping the cork and enjoying a glass of their favorite vino.

So, the next time you decide to uncork a bottle, try these steps to taste test the difference in your glass.

Taste #1: Pour a small amount of wine in your glass, put your nose down in the glass to get a good whiff, then take a sip. Swirl the wine in your glass a couple of times, smell the difference, and taste.

Taste #2: Pour a small amount of wine through an aerator into your glass, smell down in your glass, and sip.

I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the difference aeration can make to the overall enjoyment of your wine.