“Let it breathe!”
If you thought that was something people said to make it look like they know about wine… you are probably right.
There is some science behind this though! Aerating a wine and allowing it to breathe ultimately means mixing it with air. Doing this is a great way to improve the your wine drinking experience
Why should I aerate?
The alcohol in wine is ethanol, a byproduct of yeast metabolising sugar in the grapes. Ethanol is an interesting substance, particularly as you can find it in interstellar clouds. Intergalactic it might be but it smells a bit unappetising.
Aerating allows a wine with a higher concentration of ethanol to lose any hint of “alcohol hand wash” it might have through evaporation.
If you can detect a hint of matches or flame then you are picking up on the sulfites in your wine. This is sulphur dioxide, which is added to the wine to prevent further fermentation and act as a preservative. If you let your wine air you will likely find this hint disappears as the sulfites evaporate.
If you get a hint of rotten eggs or onions then you are detecting the presence of sulfides. Again, this should lessen and disappear with aerating if it is present at all.
Letting your wine air allows it to oxidise and warm up. If it has heavy or powerful aromas these should soften. Airing also allows the flavour of the wine to mellow and improve.
How should I aerate my wine?
Contrary to popular belief, simply removing the cork is not enough. Doing this only exposes the small amount of wine at the top of the bottle to the air.
Decanting is the usual method of doing this, although pouring into a glass can work just as well. Doing this mixes air into your wine. If you want to look really fancy, gently swirling it around the glass also helps to add air.
You can purchase special aeration devices which fit on the end of the bottle. Whether or not they speed up the aeration process is a matter of personal opinion.
Which wines should I aerate?
Typically red wines benefit the most from aeration. White wines typically have a higher sulfite content then reds, so it can be beneficial to aerate these too.
How long should I wait?
Typically the younger the wine the longer you should wait. So, perhaps an hour for something young and full bodied.
If you are drinking an older vintage wine of seven years or more then it is best to decant, at least to remove any sediment. Be careful not to wait too long, 15 minutes is probably enough. After that may start to lose the best flavours of the wine.
If you have a particular method of aerating your wine, or you own a special device to do so, comment or get in touch, and let us know all about it.