Why aerate wine – a guide to wine aeration, decanting, ‘breathing’

By Nicholas Frickelton

What is aerating?

Menu Wine Breather CarafeSimply put, aerating wine – or decanting – is the process of letting a wine mix with oxygen in the air. Some call it letting the wine ‘breathe’. A more complex explanation would be that it is the process wherein a wine is exposed to air to trigger oxidation and evaporation of chemical compounds in the wine.

Why aerate?

Why should you aerate your wine? You can, of course, serve wine straight out of the bottle. However, wine is a complex liquid, full of hundreds of compounds that all work together to create the unique flavor of every bottle of wine. Not all of these compounds contribute positively to the general flavor. By aerating your wine, you allow these compounds to either evaporate or be altered through oxidation. Undesirable compounds tend to be more volatile and oxidize faster than favorable compounds, so aeration has an overall positive effect on flavor.

Tannic Acid MoleculeThe most common compound brought up in discussions about aging and flavor is the tannin. Tannins, also present in tea, create a bitter taste in the wine. Young wines usually have the highest concentrations of tannins while older wines tend to have lower concentrations because tannins are removed slowly through aging. Aeration speeds up this process.

Other major compounds that can negatively affect flavor are sulfites, sulfides and ethanol (alcohol) itself. Sulfites and sulfides both add burnt or ‘eggy’ flavors to wine. Aeration reduces both of these compounds, removing their unpleasant presence from the flavor. While alcohol is to be expected in wine (and may indeed be the point for some), it can override other flavors if the concentration is too strong. Aeration will evaporate excessive alcohol and allow other flavors to emerge.

Be mindful of the adage “too much of a good thing” – it applies to aeration too. Aeration initially has a very positive effect on the flavor of your wine, but eventually even the good flavor compounds will start to degrade. Knowing your wine and how it will respond to aeration is important to get the most out of it.

While red wines benefit the most from aeration, some white wines can benefit as well. Younger wines – higher in tannin content – benefit more than older wines. Very old wines (8+ years) should only be decanted to remove sediment as their unique flavors may be ruined by extra aeration.

Ways of aerating

Menu Wine DecanterThe traditional way of aerating wine is also the most time consuming – simply pop open a bottle, pour the wine, and let it sit. In other words, let the liquid sit and interact with oxygen on it’s surface. Wine decanters are ideal for this method of aeration; the wider bottom increases the surface area of the liquid, thereby letting it aerate faster. Depending on the wine, it may reach optimal aeration after anywhere between 15-60 minutes (younger takes longer). This is the best way to aerate your wine, if you’ve got the time.

In recent years, a new and faster way of aerating has emerged: aerating devices. These range from bottle toppers that mix the wine with air as you pour, to complex foaming machines that pump oxygen directly into the wine. Not all devices are equally effective. Some devices are definitely more decorative than functional. Generally though, aerating devices are faster, aerating your wine in anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes.

For example, Menu’s Winebreather Carafe can optimize your wine in less than two minutes because its efficient design adds 10 times more oxygen to the wine than present straight from the bottle. The Menu decanting pourers also have effective designs that instantly aerate your wine as you pour. Here the Menu Blade Decanting Pourer increases the wine’s oxygen content by 430% versus straight out of the bottle. These tools are a great way to enhance your wine’s flavor if you’re in a hurry – say, if you underestimated the thirst of your guests and need to uncork some bottles pronto.

Regardless of the method you choose for aerating your wine, Menu’s collection has you covered.

Menu Multi CarafeFor traditional aeration, Menu has regular wine decanters and serving carafes. However, traditional decanting and aerating devices are not mutually exclusive. The Winebreather Carafe and the Coolbreather Carafe are elegant combinations of wine decanters with decanting pourers. With these practical designs, you can aerate your wine while serving it and still let it aerate the old-fashioned way after it’s been served.

Menu Wine Breather CarafeThe Winebreather Carafe makes it incredibly easy to aerate a bottle of wine. Simply attach it to the top of a bottle, flip it, and let the wine pour into the carafe. No need to hold the bottle, it fits securely. You can either serve it directly in the beautifully designed carafe, or flip it again and let the aerated wine flow back into the bottle, ready to serve. You can be assured of good results; the Menu Winebreather Carafe vastly outperformed other aerating devices (Vinturi, Metrokane Rabbit, etc.) in a test by Eurofins.

Menu Cool Breather Carafe

Need your wine to stay chilled? The Coolbreather Carafe includes a cooling rod that will keep your wine chilled for hours. Simply cool the rod in the freezer beforehand, then slide it into the carafe after you have filled it with wine. The Coolbreather also has the same aeration functions as the Winebreather Carafe and performed just as well in the Eurofins aerating test.

If you’d rather not fiddle with bottles and carafes, or if you’re just in a plain old hurry, a decanting pourer may be a better option. These bottle toppers are fast and easy to use. After you pop the cork, the pourers slide securely into its place, and you’re ready to serve; your wine is aerated as you pour.

Menu Blade Decanting PourerThe exciting Blade series is the newest addition to the Menu line-up of wine tools. The complete set contains two types of corkscrew, a vacuum stopper, and also a decanting pourer. The Blade Decanting Pourer is sleek and effective. Its slip-free rubber neck gives it a firm and secure fit in the bottle and the aeration action is visible through the clear tip.

Menu Classic Decanting Pourers, Vignon, Premium, Selection, VintageOur classic decanting pourers were Menu’s first offering of aerating devices and remain popular. These pourers function just like the Blade pourer, but are more compact and are available in several styles to suit your needs.

Menu wine accessories combine function and form, giving you elegant, well-designed and effective wine tools. It’s never been a better time to start enhancing your wine experience.

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