Have you ever wondered what it means to decant or aerate wine? Are you part of our wine club and when reading on the tasting note "Needs Air", you're not sure how to proceed? Do you wonder whether it would really make a difference to give the wine some air? If so, this post is for you.
Let's start with why wine needs to breathe. The best way to explain is by doing. So, I want you to try an experiment the next time you're having a glass of wine. If you need an excuse to crack open a bottle right now as you're reading let this be it!
First, pour yourself a glass of wine and hold the glass still, do not move the glass or swirl the wine. Now smell the wine. We'll call this feeling the aromas of the wine from now on. Don't be afraid to stick your nose in the glass, if you don't, you can't isolate wine aromas and you might be really sensing the smells of the room. Now, swirl the wine glass thoroughly, about 20-30 seconds should do. Exhale outside of the glass and then breath in slowly and deeply in the glass. The slower you breath in the more you will smell. The aromas of the wine have now changed. At first you mostly felt the fruity and floral primary aromas from the grapes themselves. Now, you are sensing not just the primary aromas, but also secondary and tertiary aromas from fermentation and ageing. On a red wine you might sense more woody aromas, forest floor, cigar box, or baking spices. On a white wine, such as chardonnay, you might feel a bit of yeasty aromas, like butter, freshly baked bread, cookies, or even yogurt. It depends on the production style of the wine.
So, what happened?
In just 30 seconds of air contact, the wine gets stirred up and the primary aromas that are lighter and sitting on the top layer of the glass mix in with the heavier secondary and tertiary aromas held lower in the bowl of the wine glass. You're now enjoying the primary, seconday, and tertiary aromas. If that much change occurs with 30 seconds of air contact, imagine how much more a red wine will change after 45 minutes in a decanter!
What about the science behind this. Well, I'll be honest with you I'm more into drinking wine then studying chemistry, but I can explain the basics. The thiols, which are the smelly trace components in wine, oxidize to form disulfide compounds. A great example of this is this is if you've ever tried an Italian wine and it "blows off" the farmyard aromas. Furthermore, it's been found in scientific studies that the concentration of organic acids (which play a major role in sour flavors) and polyphenols (tannins) decrease after decanting or aerating, which provides a mellowing effect on the wine.
Decanting or aerating a wine gives the wine a chance to change and develop, one of the most intriguing features of high quality wines.
Assuming I've convinced you it might be a good idea to aerate or decant your wine, how can you do it? It's actually pretty simple. In the past, wine was poured over a large spoon into a glass. Today we have gadgets that are much more effective, such as the Italian Centellino or on bottle aerators. The advantages of aerators over decanters is that they allow you to aerate a glass of wine at a time without having to commit to getting air in contact with an entire bottle of wine. They're also easier to store and learn to use quickly.