Aerating wine is something that has been done for centuries. However, only in the past couple of years has it picked up due to the sheer amount of gadgets we now have at our disposal. Today we will explore a couple of those methods and delve into the science of what ‘aerating’ wine actually means.
Different Types of Aeration
While many look to these new aerating devices as some kind of wizardry that automatically enhances the flavor of any wine, it's important to know the ins-and-outs of aerators, the different forms, and the various situations and circumstances in which they can cause more harm than good!
Decanters are the oldest and most frequently used aerators. Mostly made from glass, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Very few people know that you can also aerate wine just by leaving it in a glass for 15-20 minutes, although the time it takes does depend on the wine type in question. In fact, just by opening a bottle of wine, you are technically aerating it; it just takes a lot longer for the process to take place because of the narrow head of the bottle restricting the wines access to oxygen.
Then of course there is the 'aerator' gadget. With various patented designs, the method is fairly similar. Wine is forced through a funnel that enables a pressurized force of oxygen to interact with it. The result: instant aeration.
What Exactly Is Aeration?
When you aerate a wine two major chemical reactions take place as a result. These are called oxidation and evaporation. Oxidation takes place when something is exposed to oxygen and is the result of that chemical reaction. Think of an apple and how it turns brown when left out for too long. Wine is affected too, just in a different way. When we talk about evaporation, we're referring to the process of a liquid turning into a vapor and escaping into the air – another essential component to the aerating process.
Think of wine as a collection of compounds in a bottle; some of those compounds are full of juicy flavors and aromas, while others smell nasty (but are still essential to the winemaking process). Thankfully, in general, the undesirable compounds evaporate a lot quicker when the wine is aerated, leaving the good stuff behind.
Examples of these could include ethanol (that powerful alcohol smell) or sulfites, which are added to stop microbial activity and premature oxidation but can smell like sulfur and rotten eggs. The combination of oxidation and evaporation will reduce such compounds while enhancing others, making the wine not only smell better but taste a lot better too.
However, don't be fooled: Aerating a wine will only allow it to come to its peak for so long before it begins to flatten out and you start to lose that enhanced flavor you sought to achieve.
Wines attaining a higher concentration and density will get much more from aeration, while also taking longer to fade. Whereas some fragile wines (especially older wines) take mere minutes before their unique and delicate flavors begin to fade.
It's also important to remember that not all wines need to be aerated. In fact, aerating certain wines can actually ruin their complexity and destroy their flavor profile entirely. Young reds with a heavy tannin base or complex and bold structure, or old aged wines (especially with sediment) are perfect for decanting. However, lighter bodied reds (such as Pinot Noir, Cotes du Rhone or Chianti's) are not. Similarly, many cheaper red wines ($10 or less) are created for quick consumption and are not meant to be aerated. While 99% of white wines shouldn't be aerated either, the exception lies with some Burgundy and Bordeaux-based wines such as Alsace or Corton-Charlemagne.