Decanting VS. Aerating
Let’s discuss decanting vs. aerating; this is a conversation I have often with friends who are not in the wine industry. To keep it short and sweet, both decanting and aerating can serve a similar purpose but decanting is my preferred method. The shared purpose is to increase the surface area of the wine so contact with air occurs. I have many friends who excitedly show off their wine aerators to me because I am a sommelier and it always makes me smile. I am not a fan of these devices and I will explain why later in the blog post. I prefer decanting vs. aerating but I also have a very minimalist mentality when it comes to decanting. First things first, please remember, there are no rules set in stone on how you should drink your wine, only guidelines and recommendations. Sometimes wine drinkers (sommelier or novice) get VERY excited about decanting or using wine gadgets. It can be great to enjoy the wine in its natural state or take time to let the wine open in the bottle. The way you drink wine is always your choice.
There are sommeliers who go nuts over these devices and love the idea of aeration. Some Sommeliers go so far as to say you should “blend wine in a blender”. I am not one of these sommeliers. I find aerators to be imprecise but effective for fast oxygenation; think of it as fast track decanting. You pour the wine through the aerator a few times and yes, it will taste different for better or for worse. Decanting is a slower, gentler process. When serving wine the window of time in which the wine will be showing at its best after opening can be small. This is more true with old and light bodied wines. As I mentioned, using an aerator fast tracks the level of oxygen the wines receives, when you use a decanter or leave the wine in the open bottle you can taste as you go. I think of using an aerator like playing a guessing game. Will my wine get the perfect level of oxygen and taste it’s best or will I over do it? I am not going to play that game with a $500 bottle of old red Burgundy. I would play that game with a current vintage of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Why? Bigger fuller bodied wines and younger wines are less of a gamble. Why does bottle age make a difference in the choice to aerate? Aging is oxygenation too. I don’t recommend aerating bottles over 15 years of age but you can always taste first to have an idea of where the wine is in the aging/oxygenation process. If a wine is still alcohol forward or the tannins are still firm or overwhelming, the wine is a good candidate for aeration! Aeration will soften the alcohol and tannins in the wine making bigger, young boozy wines ready to drink faster. Yes, you can aerate white and sweet wine as well. Things I would never aerate: Champagne. Using and aerator can flatten your bubbles; if you don’t want bubbles why drink Champagne?
Why do you decant a wine? There are MANY reasons. The main reasons; allowing a younger wine to breathe and open, allowing an older wine to breathe and open, and separating the wine from the sediment. Other things to remember; some varieties of wine are suited to decanting more than others, some don’t need it at all and you can decant wines of all colors and styles. Yes, red, white, sweet and sparkling. As I mentioned with aeration, it is always best to think about where the wine is in the aging/oxidation process when decanting. Younger and fuller bodied wines can be decanted and can sometimes sit in contact with oxygen in the decanter for hours before drinking their best. Older wines may need more caution because of the age and variety of the wine. When decanting an older wine it is also important to think about the variety and vintage of the wine to determine if sediment will be an issue. You can be much more cautious with older wines when decanting vs. aerating which is why I prefer the former. Decanting shines, where aeration could be too aggressive.
Making that Decanting Decision
Last, but not least, please remember the choice to decant or aerate is TOTALLY yours. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. A standard in restaurants is ASKING if you would like your wine decanted. If that magic question doesn’t happen, I would recommend asking the sommeliers opinion. Aeration is not something offered in restaurants as a practice for the reasons discussed above. During my tenure in the restaurant industry I’ve seen professional and novice wine drinkers alike become very upset about wine when the sommelier forgets to ask about decanting or decants without permission. Keep in mind before you get upset, unless you are a drinking a significantly older bottle of wine it probably won’t ruin the wine if you decant it. What ruins a great evening worse than a bottle of wine being overly decanted? A bad attitude. You are being picky, which you are entitled to do when purchasing wine, but be sure to stay classy. -JE