Yes, I went there with the clichéd reference to Hamlet’s famous soliloquy written by William Shakespeare. I have two great reasons though: 1—remember, I am an English teacher by day, and I just finished teaching this play; and 2—I really have been asked this question a lot lately! My answer is not a question of life and death (like Shakespeare’s famous speech), but it can be an important answer to the life of a wine.
1. What is aeration? Aeration is literally the process of circulating air through or mixing air with another substance. In this case, the substance is wine. The market today is flooded with aerators in almost any size, shape, or price. What these cool-looking gadgets do is let the wine run through or over an object to inject more oxygen.
2. Not all wines need aeration. Most white wines would not benefit from aerating. The point of aerating a wine is to increase the contact between oxygen and wine. For many wines, this increased oxygen is a good thing. Air in the wine helps to bring out the aromas and flavors of a wine. Oxygen can also soften the taste of the tannins. Red wines gain more from this process. Many white wines that are very light bodied and delicate anyway would actually lose smell and flavor if aerated.
3. Only some red wines need aeration. It is generally a personal preference if you would like to aerate a red wine. Red wines that are very young and tannic can be softened to pair better with foods if they have been aerated. Also, if any wine drinkers enjoy softer wines with fewer bold tannins, aerating can help make the wine more drinkable to this type of palette.
4. There are some wines to never aerate. Wines that have been cellared for an extended period of time should not be aerated. Aged wines become more delicate, and if a very old wine is aerated, the smells and flavors might actually be lost completely. Depending on the wine, I wouldn’t aerate anything over 10-15 years aged in the bottle. Think how disappointing it would be to open up a beautiful bottle of perfectly aged wine to spoil it by using an aerator. (Now keep in mind, this would be different from just decanting and letting the wine sit to open up.)
5. Do what you like. Ultimately, it comes down to what every individual likes to drink. I often go through periods when I will aerate wines very often, just so I can use my fun wine toys. I also like to drink a wine one night without aeration and then the next night with aeration, taking notes on both tastings to see which I preferred. I also like to show friends and wine students the difference aeration makes, so I will often pour them an ounce with no use of an aerator and then an ounce with the use of an aerator. It is fun to witness wine novices experience the difference that can be made in some wines when more oxygen is present.
6. What aerator to use? This is probably the trickiest question of all! As mentioned, aeration of wine is big business right now. There are small gadgets for just one glass or large contraptions to aerate an entire bottle. There are even wine glasses that do the aeration themselves! I don’t have a particular preference, but again, it depends on the circumstance.
This large aerator is very beautiful and makes a statement. I like to use it at parties or get-togethers where there is a large group and beautifully aerating an entire bottle of wine for all to see is a must.
The decanter and funnel is another beautiful, yet traditional, way to aerate an entire bottle at once. The decanters available today are even more magnificent than the aerator selection. One can also spend a little or a LOT (see some of Riedel’s new decanter designs).
This individual glass style of pourer is also a great way to let people aerate their own glass as they pour.
This one-glass-at-a-time aerator is a fun invention and is interesting to have set out so individuals can decant their own as they pour a glass. It is the one I keep on the edge of my wine room shelf to easily grab if I think I want aeration for that night’s wine.
The aerator that goes inside the wine bottle is very popular right now due to its reasonable price and its ease of use. I liked and used mine often, until I used it at a class and gave it away to someone who complimented it. I have wanted to replace it, but I just haven’t. Mainly because I have so many other styles I can use to aerate!
So whether you aerate wines as often as Shakespeare killed off a main character in his tragedies, or whether you look at aeration with distrust like an “adder fanged,” it can be useful to many wine drinkers. Aeration is popular to the masses right now; let’s see if it stands the test of time like a great Shakespeare play.
What do you think of aeration? Do you have a favorite that you use?