Whether you are new to the wine world or have been a wine drinker of many, many, MANY bottles, you’ve probably have heard someone say you need to let wine “breathe.” But few understand what this means. Do all wines need to breathe? How long does it take for wine to breathe? Does decanting wine allow it to breathe? What is decanting? And how does aerating wine differ from decanting? We will answer these questions and more as we explore what it means to "let wine breathe."
Wine is a perishable product on a "slow march toward death" or spoilage, for the less dramatic. The march is caused by oxygen and accelerated by chemical reactions involving the wine’s acids, sugars, and phenolic compounds (such as tannins), which begin during fermentation and continue after bottling. The chemical reactions can alter the aroma, color, and taste of the wine before eventually succumbing to oxidization. The exposure to oxygen and the chemical processes, however, are often reduced for an extended period of time upon bottling. In such cases, the wine can benefit from added exposure to air after uncorking to reveal the wine’s full aroma and flavor. Thus, wine aeration is nothing more than trying to replicate the wine’s natural aging process by exposing it to air.
Aeration vs Decanting: Is there a difference?
The dictionary definition of aerate is “to supply or impregnate (something, such as a liquid) with air.” This differs from decanting, which is simply defined as “to pour (a liquid, such as wine) from one vessel into another.” With these two definitions in hand we can understand the difference between aeration and decanting. But to keep things interesting, aeration doesn’t necessarily have to happen via decanting, and decanting doesn’t necessarily have to involve aeration. Confused? Read on.
When to Aerate
Most white wines, dessert wines, and lighter red wines do not require aeration to bring out their aroma and flavor. These wines are considered ready-to-drink upon pouring. Just make sure the wines are served at the appropriate temperature to experience the wine’s full flavor (see our blog post “To Chill or Not to Chill - Is there a “Correct” Temperature to Serve Wine?”). However, many red wines, such as Bordeaux, Red Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and many Italian wines, especially from the Piedmont region, will benefit from aeration. The aeration allows the tannins to mellow, softens the harshness of the wine, and makes for a more pleasurable drinking experience. As a general rule, the younger and more tannic the wine, the longer it needs to breathe or the more aeration that is required.
How to Aerate
There are several ways to successfully aerate wine. The simplest method (albeit not entirely effective) is to pour the wine into a large glass at least 10 minutes before you plan to drink it. This also happens to be the simplest form of decanting. (And if you don’t know which type of glass to use for your wine, check back for our upcoming blog post “Does the Glass Matter?”). However, this method may not work for every wine, or every wine that needs aeration. Similarly, uncorking the bottle and letting the wine sit may not be enough to fully aerate the wine either. The narrow neck and opening of the bottle are not wide enough to properly allow enough air to reach the wine for aeration to occur. Rather, the best ways to aerate your wine will involve an aerator or a decanter or both.
There are a variety of aerators on the market to satisfy every aeration need. Below are some of our favorites.
The Micro-bubble Aerator by Aermate - Breathe life into your wine. Squeeze the ball of the Micro-bubble aerator and shoot hundreds of bubbles though the stainless steel post into the wine. This aerator allows you to choose how much aeration to use… more for young wines, less for delicate older wines. The Aermate aerator is easy to clean, portable, and features an upright design with a drip cup. Plus, it gives you the perfect excuse to be a kid again and blow bubbles in your drink.
Ocean Series Sea Creature Pewter Aerators - Looking for a bit of whimsey in your aerator? Add a sea creature to your wine. Made from 100% pewter, the stunning Ocean Series aerators come in a Puff Fish or Seahorse design. These beautiful aerators reduce your decanting time by diffusing the wine as it is poured into your favorite wide-mouth decanter. They're a great conversation piece too.
Wine Aerator and Pourer by Rabbit - Rabbit's wine aerator and pourer makes the decanting process fast, easy, and convenient. Simply insert the aerator into the wine bottle - no need to awkwardly hold the aerator over a glass. As you pour the wine, the proper amount of air is mixed in, resulting in a better bouquet, richer flavor, and smoother finish.
Red Wine Aerator by Vinturi - The Vinturi Red Wine aerator delivers perfect aeration in the time it takes to pour a glass. Simply hold the aerator over the glass and pour the wine through for instant aeration. Or combine the aerator with the Vinturi Tower to create a beautiful aeration system. The elegant curved acrylic Tower cradles the aerator, secures the wine glass, and creates a dramatic presentation for conveniently aerating your wine. Its contemporary design complements the aerator and accents any table, counter-top, or home bar. The stylish Aerator and Tower Set includes the Vinturi Red Wine aerator, tower arm, tower base, no-splash grate, no-drip stand, and sediment filter, all of which are easy to clean and dishwasher safe.
White Wine Aerator by Vinturi - As its name implies, Vinturi’s new white wine aerator is specially designed for white wine. Like their Red Wine Aerator, the White Wine aerator is easy to use and clean, and can be used with the Tower. Specifically designed for white wines, the Vinturi White Wine aerator will deliver a better bouquet, flavor, and finish.
When to Decant
Another means to aerating wine is to decant the wine before drinking. The length of time the wine needs to stay in the decanter to sufficiently aerate is based on the wine itself. The younger and more tannic the wine, the longer it needs to breathe and the longer the decanting time. Start with an hour for young tannic red wines, but be prepared to decant very tannic wines for three to four hours.
Decanters also serve another function. The natural chemical reactions in making wine will result in the tannins and other matter solidifying. This sediment can taste bitter and be unsightly, creating cloudy wine. While the sediment is harmless, it isn’t very palatable. Pouring the wine gently into a decanter can separate the clear wine from the cloudy wine and sediment.
Decanters can be an inexpensive wide-mouth carafe or a beautiful piece of art that reflects and expresses your personality. Below are a few of our favorite decanters, and something for every one’s taste and need.
Alias Decanter and Funnel Set by Ravenscroft - The elegant, cutting edge, minimalist design of the Alias Decanter and Funnel is sure to catch the eye of any person in the room. Hand-blown by old-world European artisans from the most brilliant 100% lead-free crystal, this decanter includes a convenient removable crystal funnel which allows wine to be poured easily from bottle to decanter, eliminating spillage. With its unique size and shape, the Alias Decanter and Funnel Set offers a dramatic addition to the most elegant table.
Cristoff Decanter by Ravenscroft - This decanter is classic in appearance and unmatched in functionality. Each decanter is handcrafted from brilliant lead-free crystal at their premier European manufacturing facility. The Cristoff Decanter also comes in a variety of sizes, including the Single, Magnum, Double Magnum, Imperial, and Salmanazar.
Duck Decanter by Ravenscroft - Handmade in Europe by the world's most renowned wine glass makers, the Duck Decanter is strikingly graceful, hand-blown from brilliant lead-free crystal. While the most common uses of a decanter are to prevent sediment from spoiling an aged red wine or to open up a wine's bouquet by exposing it to air, few decanters can compete for elegance with the Duck Decanter. This spectacular design is inspired by the shape of a duck and contributes a breathtaking elegance to any table or wine bar. The beautiful decanter is available in traditional clear crystal or cobalt blue crystal.
Captain's Decanter by Ravenscroft - As is characteristic of all ship-style decanters, the Captain's Decanter has a broad base, originally used to prevent tipping on the rolling waves, now used for its elegant design. The Captain’s Decanter, like all of Ravenscroft's fine crystal, is lead-free and painstakingly hand-blown and finished by committed old-world craftsmen using the finest, purest materials. This decanter is handmade in Europe of brilliant lead-free crystal.
Amphora Decanter by Ravenscroft - The Amphora Decanter is inspired by a commemorative handled vase that the Greeks and Romans awarded to the victorious in contests. Handmade in Europe by old-world craftsmanship from the finest and most brilliant 100% lead-free crystal, this handled decanter will be a hit with history buffs and wine lovers alike.
Aeration is the act of adding air. Decanting is the act of pouring. Aeration doesn’t necessarily happen via decanting, and decanting doesn’t necessarily involve aeration. The majority of white wines and many red wines do not require aeration or decanting before drinking. However, aerating and decanting the proper wines are simple tasks that can greatly improve your wine drinking experience. Make the most of each wine’s unique aroma and flavor using one of the beautiful aerators or decanters described above. And with your new found knowledge, quickly advance from wine drinker to wine lover.