I have friends who decant and aerate red wine. It certainly provides drama and flourish to the pouring – but does it make a difference to the taste of the wine? Here is what I’ve found out. Caution: I enjoy wine, but I am not an expert.
Should I expose red wine to air?
Tannins are what give red wine a bitter, metallic, astringent taste. When wine ages in its bottle, its tannins break down slowly, which is why connoisseurs savor older vintages. When wine is exposed to air (oxygen), the tannins break down quickly, so ‘letting wine breathe’ helps young wines mellow out and drink more like their elders. Letting wine breath also allows for some evaporation. Undesirable compounds in the wine – like sulfides, sulfates and ethanol – are said to evaporate more quickly than the ones which yield desirable flavor and bouquet. Sounds like exposing wine to air, especially young wine, is a good idea.
How do I expose my red wine to air?
The variety of techniques to speed up the process of oxygenation and evaporation are all forms of aeration. Here are several ways to aerate with various levels of drama.
Open the bottle an hour before pouring.
This is not very effective because just the surface of the wine in the neck of the bottle is exposed to air.
Stand the wine bottle straight up for hours so the sediment settles to the bottom.
Pour the wine slowly from the bottle to your carafe. Avoid pouring the sediment into the decanter.
Swirl the wine periodically in the carafe.
Serve the wine after about forty-five minutes.
Hint: Taste the wine periodically throughout the process. You will taste a difference.
Aerate in a glass.
Pour from the bottle with as long a drop to the glass as you can manage without spilling. Fill the glass to the widest point so that the largest surface of the wine is exposed to the air. Let the wine breathe in the glass before drinking. You can continue to aerate in your glass by swirling your wine. Note: This has the added advantage of making you look like a connoisseur.
Aerate into a decanter.
Similar to aerating into a glass, pour wine from the bottle into a carafe from as far above the carafe as is practical. The wine will be exposed to air as it falls.
Pour through an aerator fitted into the wine bottle’s opening.
Insert the aerator into the bottle opening and pour the wine into your glass. These aerators tend to be small, portable and less expensive than the handheld variety, but they are reported to infuse the wine with less air than the bigger versions.
Pour through a handheld aerator.
Hold the aerator above the wine glass (unless you have a professional model which positions the aerator above the glass in a cradle) and pour.
Hyperdecant the wine.
Hyperdecanting has been popularized by Microsoft executive turned foodie, Nathan Myhrvold, author of Modernist Cuisine. To hyperdecant, pour your red wine into a blender and pulse. It is said to make the wine smoother, sweeter and less tannic than without blending. Taste frequently, it is possible to blend too much. Want a little less drama at your table? A handheld frother can achieve similar results. See video of blending technique.
So what works?
It turns out there are a lot of experts with many opinions about aeration. My conclusion is that older, valuable wines are best left alone or gently decanted to remove sediment. Younger, more tannic wines will benefit from aeration – to taste.
Bad news, good news?
It is possible to spoil wine by exposing it to too much air (that’s the bad news). You should taste the wine periodically throughout the aeration process and stop when it is just right (that’s the good news).
Intrigued? Here are some aerators:
Hand held aerators:
Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator is a classic and offers different aerators for white and red wines and different sizes for travel and home. From $19.86.
VinLuxe PRO Wine Aerator is highly rated. $37.95.
In-bottle aerators, useful for travel and restaurants:
Wine enthusiast Nuance Wine Finer, top seller on sale for $24.99.
Nicholas VinOair Wine Aerator, $10.48.
Find more information on wine aeration from the experts at Wine Enthusiast at www.wineenthusiast.com.