16 Feb
2009

Aeration Explained

VersovinoIn last week’s post, I clarified (hopefully) what decanting really means. Historically, in the days before more extensive filtering was performed, many wines needed to be decanted in order to separate the wine from the sediment. Today, however, sediment appears mostly in red wines that have been aged for awhile (typically, over 10 years), if it appears at all. So, why do people continue to decant wines that don’t have any visible sediment, particularly younger wines? The answer is that, technically, they aren’t really “decanting” the wine—they’re “aerating” it.

The oxygenation process stimulates the wine by letting the wine “breathe a bit” and “open up” to soften any tannins and release the wine’s bouquet and flavor, making the wine taste less astringent and more complex than it would have tasted right out of the bottle. This process is really “aeration”, but people often call it “decanting” because they use a decanter and the process looks similar to the informal decanting process (the one done without the candle and the careful handling of the bottle), except there isn’t any sediment in the wine bottle to separate from the wine. Interestingly, some modern wine producers do something analogous called micro-oxygenation, which introduces oxygen into the wine in a controlled manner to artificially age and alter the wine during the production process.

So, which wines should you aerate? An older vintage wine (typically, older than 10 years) can deteriorate very quickly when exposed to oxygen, so an older wine shouldn’t necessarily be aerated. You might decant the wine to eliminate any visible sediment, but then you should limit the wine’s exposure to oxygen until you see how quickly the wine changes. For a younger wine (especially a highly–tannic or deep–dark red, but also many whites), aeration will likely release the aroma and improve the taste. The amount of time you should expose the wine to oxygen varies from less than a minute up to several hours, depending on the particular wine and its age.

SelectionWhat if you want to aerate your wine, but you don’t necessarily plan to drink the whole bottle at one sitting? You don’t want extended oxygen exposure to destroy an entire bottle of wine just for one perfect glass. Or maybe you do plan to drink the entire bottle, but you don’t have the foresight or patience to let the open wine sit for hours. Or you don’t like having to clean a decanter. Whatever your reason, there are alternatives to using a traditional decanter and they, like decanters, range from the simple to the ornate.

I recently tested three aerators, each having one or more unique features—the Selection, the Soirée and the Versovino pourers. To test these aerators, I opened a bottle of San Alejandro‘s 2005 Las Rocas Garnacha, a deep–dark ruby red Spanish wine packed with tannins, aroma and flavor—a likely candidate for some aeration. I wasn’t sure these products would deliver on their claims of significantly enhancing the aroma and flavor of the wine.

The Selection pourer from Creative Danes’ Menu line fit right onto the wine bottle in place of the cork. At first glance, it looks like a simple wine pourer, but it filters, splits, and oxygenates the wine as you pour. This pourer has a small chamber with a design that agitates the wine before it drops through a metal sieve and into the wine glass. Like the Schur DropStop®, it is drip–free. Creative Danes also offers vacuum stoppers in its Menu collection (including one in a matching style) that preserve the wine you leave in the bottle for drinking another day.

SoiréeThe Soirée pourer also fit easily onto the wine bottle—a rubber gasket keeps the Soirée in place as you pour. (It comes with two gaskets—one for standard cork–top bottles; the other for screw cap bottles.) You can see the Soirée agitate and oxygenate the wine as you pour. You can hold the wine bottle at various inclinations to adjust the vigor of the agitation and aeration that the Soirée adds to the wine. For maximum aeration, turn the bottle completely upside down while pouring. The Soirée comes with its own stand.

The Versovino pourer (shown in the first photo) also fit onto the wine bottle easily. It serves as a portioner, because the glass sphere stops filling at exactly 100 ml (roughly 3–1/2 fluid ounces). Since a standard wine bottle holds 750 ml, the Verovino will apportion seven servings, plus a little bit extra. Of course, if you want less than 100 ml in your glass, just pour less; if you want more than 100 ml, you can use the Versovino a second time, pouring 100 ml or less the second time. The Versovino aerates the wine as you pour. The wine expands softly inside the glass sphere and breathes air, so all the fragrances and flavors in the wine re–awaken.

For the test, I faced four seemingly–identical glasses of wine, only one of which was poured without using an aerator (the control taste). I picked that one out easily among the group. Each of the three aerators improved the aroma and flavor of the wine, right out of the bottle. Using the aerators, the wine’s aroma really filled the glass and the full flavor of the fruit opened up immediately. All of these aerators are easy to use. The Soirée and Versovino websites have videos showing how to use the products; the Menu Selection’s design makes it obvious how to use it. All three are also easy to wash—just rinse them off with water and let them dry.

So, which aerator is the best? As with wine, that is a matter of taste and opinion. You’ll just have to experiment and decide for yourself.



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