July 12, 2021
You may have heard of it or seen it around but it's a wine accessory often shrouded in mystery and often underrated among most wine drinkers. From wine glass shapes to decanters, to wine temperature and aeration, there are many lengths you can go to for enhancing the subtle nuances and flavors in a wine. Aerators and the need for them are often hotly debated among wine enthusiasts but many will argue aerators are essential to the wine tasting experience. Here is a complete guide to aerators.
What is a Wine Aerator?
You may have heard about allowing wines to "breathe" before drinking them. The concept is that if you allow the wine to finally be exposed to oxygen, it helps enhance subtle aromas and flavors while releasing unwanted flavors from the wine. The idea is to get the truest expression of the wine in terms of flavor and aroma.
Before we discuss what an aerator is, we need to discuss the process of aeration. Wine is a chemical compound and when uncorked and poured out, it goes through two chemical processes - oxidation and evaporation. Both of these processes help "breathe" the wine and minimizes unwanted flavors from your wines, which is why many people leave their wine in a decanter or their glass for a bit before enjoying it.
What Does a Wine Aerator Do?
While you can sit and wait for your wine to naturally aerate or aerate your wine prior to serving it, an aerator very quickly exposes the wine to the air to accelerate oxidization and evaporation. Aerators can look different they all essentially work the same way by sending wine through a pressurized funnel of oxygen.
Exposing wine to excessive levels of oxygen triggers the compounds within the wine to undergo a chemical reaction. This is the same chemical reaction when fruits ripen. Ethanol is very susceptible to oxidation and is converted to acetaldehyde and acetic acid, which reduces the medicinal or vegetal notes that are most noticeable in the wine's bouquet.
Ethanol and sulfites in wine are unstable compounds and are the first to evaporate. Since there is so much of both contained in a wine, you do want some of it to evaporate so you can taste the more subtle flavors in your wine.
Aerating doesn't change your wine's character but it enhances the right flavors while diminishing the less favorable flavors. By accelerating the evaporation of alcohol and sulfites, you remove the more acidic and acrid flavors that aren't enjoyable.
Do Wine Aerators Work?
Yes! Wine aerators are no gimmick! We've done our fair share of experimenting with wine and wine experts agree, aerators will change the way you experience wine. Wine aerators are an underrated and underutilized tool that anyone who enjoys wine needs to use regularly.
Wine aerators actually work because they're backed by sound science. When wine is exposed to air by running it through an aerator, the excess ethanol and sulfites is oxidized and evaporated. This mellows out the harsh and acidic notes and desirable flavors of the wine. This doesn't change a cheap bottle into an expensive bottle of wine but it balances the notes of the wine. The beauty of an aerator is that instead of waiting to drink your wine, you can drink it nearly immediately.
How to Use a Wine Aerator
There are three primary ways to aerate wine. Some people like swirling it around in their glass because it increases the surface area of the wine, encouraging oxidation and evaporation. Some people prefer to decant their wine. This glass vessel is designed to provide increased surface area for the wine providing a means for oxidation and evaporation. Both of these means are not as effective and take more time than using an aerator. There are different styles of aerators that will change the process slightly.
Handheld Wine Aerator
This type of aerator is placed on top of a wine glass, the wine is poured through the vessel, it runs through an aeration chamber, and into the glass. These aerators are like a funnel, you just pour the wine through but not too much at once because it flows through the aerator slowly. When it has run through the aerator, it is ready to enjoy.
Bottle Stopper or Wine Pourer Aerator
This type of aerator is a funnel that attaches to the opening of a bottle of wine and as you pour the wine, the wine is passed through an aeration chamber. The oxidation and evaporation occur during the pour, which allows you to drink your wine almost immediately.
Why Aerate Wine?
Aerating wine gives your wine a more balanced, dimensional, and truer flavor. The harshness and acidity are mellowed and it makes your wine instantly more enjoyable.
Benefits of Aerating Wine
It enhances the wine's aroma.
Have you ever taken a big whiff of a freshly opened bottle? The first thing you will notice is the strong and stinging scent of ethanol, followed by a strong almost medicinal smell from the fermentation process. Aerating your wine releases these strong and unpleasant aromas and reveals the beautiful wine bouquet underneath.
It elevates the flavors in your wine.
Since so much of a wine's flavor is tied to its aroma, aeration greatly affects both aroma and flavor. The evaporation of the ethanol doesn't make your wine less alcoholic but the sharpness that you often experience with a sip of strong alcohol is now not there. You now get the sophisticated and elegant flavors rolling onto your palate.
It saves money.
Aerating a bottle of wine won't suddenly transform it into a much more expensive bottle of wine but it will make a cheaper wine taste much better. It almost bumps your wine a tier up because instead of tasting the sharp ethanol and strong acidity, the complexity is suddenly revealed. An aerator helps you get your money's worth out of your wine because you will be able to taste all the notes and complexity of the wine.
Which Wines Benefit from Aeration?
Should you aerate red wine?
In general, most red wines really benefit from aeration but in particular, young reds and reds that are high in tannins are significantly enhanced by aeration. Since these wines lack aging time, aerating them will help release the unwanted chemicals that would normally be released during the aging process.
Older vintages also need aeration because of the high amount of sediment, which are the tannins that have bonded together and sunk, instead of being suspended in the wine. This excess of sediment can make the very bitter and give your wine a very sharp taste. An aerator helps filter out the sediment but very old vintages can be more fragile and a decanter may be a better solution.
Should you aerate white wine?
Like red wines, you can aerate most of these but only a few types will really benefit from this process. In general, white wines that have heavier and richer notes that are almost red wine-like will really benefit from this. We recommend aerating heavier, full-bodied whites from Bordeaux, Alsace, Burgundy, and some Chardonnays. Most white wines won't need aeration because they are typically young wines and they don't contain the tannins that require their bouquet or flavor profile to be tempered.
The Power of Aeration
The shocking thing about aeration is that it's just evaporation and oxidation. These are normally two things you'd think you wouldn't want when it comes to wine but the saying "everything in moderation" is true. The perfect amount of evaporation and oxidation will lead to a beautiful wine tasting experience. As important as picking out the perfect glass, aeration is an underrated process often overlooked by wine amateurs. Since wine glass shape also affects wine aeration, you can learn about choosing the perfect wine glass in our article here.
If you are going to go through the effort of preserving your wines in a wine refrigerator, it's time to also consider serving them properly using an aerator. Luckily, aerators are easy to use and do pretty much do all the work for you. It's a matter of remembering to use one every time you open up a bottle. We think once you try a properly aerated wine, you'll never turn back! Elevate your wines and your experience with this simple tool and you'll thank us.