What Does a Wine Aerator Do?

You may have heard the phrase, “Let your wine breathe,” but how does breathing relate to wine?

Like humans, wine needs a certain amount of oxygen, some wine more than others. This helps the wine to look and smell its best. Allowing a wine to breathe could look like swirling it in the glass, leaving the bottle uncorked on the counter, or using a decanter or an aerator. But what does a wine aerator do?

This blog discusses aeration and how this method can help you get the most out of your wine’s flavors and aromas. 

Types of wine aerators.

What is a Wine Aerator?

Unlike a decanter, a larger vase-shaped glass used to oxidize wine, an aerator is typically a smaller device that attaches to the opening of a bottle of wine, like a spout. 

With both items, the goal is to let the wine “breathe,” allowing for different flavors and aromas to develop. It may sound farfetched that a little nozzle can add to your wine’s smell or taste, but science has proven it’s no gimmick!

How a Wine Aerator Works

As you pour the wine, its surface area expands, allowing more oxygen to develop those intense aromas and flavors. For example, if you’re serving red wine with blackberry, cherry, tobacco, and black currant notes, the aerator will help make these notes more pronounced. 

When you use an aerator, two chemical reactions take place: oxidation and evaporation. This doesn’t mean your wine will evaporate before your eyes. Instead, undesirable compounds like sulfites (crystals) evaporate, leaving only the desirable aromas behind. 

Now that we have a better understanding of how an aerator works, which wines are aerators best used for, and are there wines that shouldn’t be aerated?

What does a wine aerator do?

Which Wines Should You Aerate?

Red wines are the primary wines that will benefit from aeration, especially young red wines with high tannins and older wines. Aeration will smooth out tannins' bitter, puckering taste, making them silky smooth. 

Here are some young red wines that could use a bit of aerating for their tannins. 

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Sangiovese
  • Syrah
  • Malbec
  • Nebbiolo

    Like the wines listed above, older red wines tend to have bitter tannins and more potent, savory flavors. Sulfites are also an issue since sugars tend to crystallize as wine ages. Aeration will smooth out the bitterness of an older wine, break down its tannins, and allow those secondary (lighter) notes to come through, like dried fruit or floral aromas and flavors. It will also evaporate unwanted sulfites, allowing for a smooth sipping experience. 

    We’ve covered red wine aeration, but can you aerate white wine too?

    Can You Aerate White Wine?

    The short answer: yes! White wine can absolutely benefit from aeration. However, certain white wines shouldn’t be aerated for long, if at all, as too much oxidation may water down their delicate aromas. White sparkling and subtle wines like Pinot Grigio don’t need to aerate. For the most part, white wines tend to be young wines, meaning they don’t have robust tannins like those you’d find in structured red wines. 

    Aeration may be a good option if the white wine is heavier and more complex. Here are a few white wines that could use a minute or two of aeration:

    1. Buttery, full-bodied Chardonnay
    2. Bordeaux white wine
    3. Alsace white wine
    4. Burgundy white wine

    Now that we know which wines react best to aeration, let’s look at how to use a wine aerator step by step.

    How to use a wine aerator

    How to Use a Wine Aerator

    We know what an aerator is, but what is the best way to use one? Whether you’re new to aerating wine or need a refresher, here’s a step-by-step guide to getting the most out of your wine’s aromas and flavors. 

    1. Position your wine glass on a level surface.
    2. Set your wine on a stable surface and uncork it. 
    3. If using a handheld aerator, carefully position it over the glass, holding it steadily. If using an aerator pourer (spout), push the edge into the wine bottle opening until it snaps into place. (Automated wine aerators snap and act like a pump, pulling the wine upward from the bottle and into the glass).
    4. Support the bottom of the bottle and start slowly pouring. The wine may run more quickly from the bottle as it aerates. 
    5. Remove the aerator and re-cork your wine bottle. 
    6. Swirl, sniff, and sip your wine. 

    Speaking of letting your wine breathe, there’s one more thing we need to address: the differences between decanters and aerators.

    Wine Decanter vs. Aerator

    We briefly touched upon the similarities and differences between aeration and decanting, but we left out a few nuances until now.

    While both tools allow more oxygen into the surface area of the wine, developing subtler notes and aromas, decanters are mainly used for oxidizing older wines, not younger ones. Decanters also work best for white wines and Rosé. Since aerators provide more oxygen at a faster rate, they might be too intense for lighter wine. 

    As mentioned, aerators work well for younger and older red wines. However, depending on how old or fragile the wine is, a decanter might be better suited for aged varietals.

    Aerators and decanters also differ widely in aesthetics. While an aerator is usually a smaller device that attaches to the mouth of a wine bottle, a decanter is that wide-based, long-necked glass (or crystal) bottle you pour your wine into. 

    We’ve taken you through the steps for using an aerator, but what about a decanter?

    Wine decanter vs. aerator

    How to Decant Wine in 5 Steps

    1. Sit your bottle upright for at least 24 hours before decanting.
    2. Slowly pour from the bottom of the bottle, tilting the neck into the decanter (without letting the bottle touch or rest on the edge of the decanter). 
    3. Recork the bottle. 
    4. Let your wine decant for the time appropriate for the type of wine you’ll be serving (see below).
    5. Pour the wine from the decanter into your guests’ glasses and enjoy!

    It might seem like we skipped step six but don’t panic. Here’s precisely how long you should decant your wine.

    How Long to Decant Wine

    As hinted above, decanting times depend significantly on the type of wine you’ll be serving.

    • Red wines can be decanted for as little as twenty minutes or up to two hours.
    • Light-bodied reds like Pinot Noir will be on the shorter end of that spectrum, while aged and tannic red wines may need maximum time to breathe.
    • For most white wines and Rosé, thirty minutes or slightly less is standard, while sparkling wine doesn't need decanting! It's best to keep those bubbles secure and fresh until serving time.

      Benefits of aerating wine.

      Benefits of Decanting and Aerating Wine

      Take your wine’s taste to the next level by incorporating an aerator into your sipping experience. Both aeration and decanting improve an aged wine’s complex bouquet, elevate a young wine’s flavor profile, and save money. 

      This means you can make that $10 wine smell as good (if not better) as a much more expensive bottle. It’s amazing what a little oxygen can do.

      Shop wine aerators here and see what your wine is capable of!

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