Whether you are a wine virgin or someone who has enjoyed the finest wines of the world, we all have experienced a variety of methods for preparing and serving wine, in restaurants, homes as well as events. It’s fair to say that we all have heard someone say “I am removing the cork to let this wine breathe”, or if lucky have ordered a fine expensive bottle of red in a restaurant, and your wine Stewart proceeded to pour it into a carafe. Not all wines have benefit to aeration, however many will improve your tasting experience if it is done correctly, and we are talking both reds and whites here.
Many years ago in one of the finest restaurants in Rome while dining with the love of my life, I ordered a most excellent and expensive bottle of wine at the suggestion of the restaurant Sommelier. As we waited and watched him return from the wine cellar, and presenting the bottle to me for confirmation, he proceeded to a special table, where he opened the bottle. And then carefully poured the luscious red contents, through an aerator directly into a fancy crystal carafe. As I watched this process I realized that this was truly performed as a ritual to present this exceptional wine to our palate, in it’s best condition possible.
What happened next amazed, irritated, and pleased me along with gaining my respect for this gentleman professional. As I watched he poured himself a generous portion in a fine glass, and proceeded to do a sip, swirl and taste, followed by completely draining the glass of wine.
He then proceeded to our table and poured us each a glass, where upon I repeated his ritual, which in my case ended in an explosive orgasm I have to admit. When I came back down to earth he asked me if the wine was acceptable, and I responded by asking him the same question. He smiled at me, and proceeded to explain his ritual of tasting, and presenting wine from his cellar to diners that he himself knew was excellent and served to perfection. Wines from his cellar he believed needed to be exposed to oxygen to fully expose the fruits within the bottle, and aeration along with the expansive exposure of air within the carafe accomplished this. As far as actually drinking a portion of every bottle he served, he felt he was experiencing exactly what we would and he was then satisfied with the presentation of the wine.
So back to the topic of aeration, and whether or not you should use an aerator. Wines, especially red wines will benefit from using an aerator to expose them to oxygen. Just removing the cork and setting the bottle on a table for an hour will do nothing to improve that wine, and actually will do more harm by altering the temperature of the wine, but more on that at a later date. You will be amazed at the positive affect on your taste buds and senses by using an aerator and allowing a young cabernet sauvignon or high tannin red breathe for 20 minutes. For those of us that have tasted wine out of the bottle, and experience the heavy alcohol smell or sulfides present in some wines, aeration can alter those states and the results will be more expressive.
Now there are some wines that really don’t need to breathe or be aerated, and some that really shouldn’t be aerated and can actually ruin what should be an excellent tasting experience. That fine older cellared bottle of vintage red that sat in your wine cellar for eight or more years has developed a fine balance of flavors that with aeration might just vanish and leave you with a dull uneventful wine. Keep in mind that older wines that have sat for years can develop heavy sediment and using a funnel with a sieve to pour is highly recommended.
Young red wines seem to improve and open up when you pour them through an aeration system and adding a “breath of life” to them. Something that you might try the next time you purchase a nice younger bottle is to pop the cork, and pour a glass, then pour a second glass through an aerator, and compare yourself. More than likely you will find a remarkable difference.
Keep in mind that aeration is never going to make an inexpensive or younger wine taste like that older wine that has smoothed out and softened its tannins in the bottle over time. However, it can reduce the bite of a young red and the harshness that can sometimes overwhelm the flavor in that wine.
Wines that will benefit from the use of an aeration system are the Zinfandels, Cabernet Sauvignons and Syrah’s, all of which are known for higher tannin levels. Your not going to hurt any of these by aeration, but chances are more that improvement is awaiting. As far as white wines, the ones that will gain from aeration are the Gewürztraminers and heavy richer Chardonnay’s, which can also be a little tannic.
Wines that shouldn’t be aerated are old wines, and by old I am talking about 30-40+ years in the bottle. If you have the rare opportunity to open and taste one of these wines, don’t aerate them, don’t pour and leave in a decanter, but rather, drink your glass, and re-pour if it was good and available. These wines once opened will loose all flavor quickly when exposed to air.
Finally, the wines that receive the most benefit from aeration are the younger wines that you may not want to or be able to cellar for years to allow that smooth mellowness to develop. You can drink them now, and in most cases enjoy them a lot better with a trip through an aerator. So give it a try, and pick one up or borrow someone’s next time you are at a party or event. And if you are using one on a young wine, and someone calls you a “wine snob”, just proceed to pour his or her wine directly from the bottle, and yours through your aerator. You win..they loose.