Decanting vs. Aerating: simple ways to improve the taste of any wine
Updated: Feb 14
What is Decanting?
Put simply, decanting is the act of pouring a liquid from one container to another. In the case of wine, the purpose of decanting is two-fold:
1) it adds oxygen to the wine, which enhances the flavor
2) it separates the liquid from any sediment that has settled in the bottle.
The shape of a wine bottle is intentional: it is designed to
"capture” sediment in the shoulders (wide part at the base of the neck)
while the liquid pours through the neck (skinny part).
How to Decant
Choose your decanter – it doesn’t need to be fancy crystal to work; in fact, a glass pitcher would do the job just fine. There are lots of neat decanters out there. Choose one that suits your personality!
Open and pour – pour at a steady pace, letting it run down the inside of the decanter to expose it to the most amount of air, keeping an eye out for any sediment approaching the neck of the bottle.
Leave a bit in the bottle – you don’t want to pour that trapped sediment in your decanter.
Allow to sit for about 40 minutes – let that baby breathe and bring out the rich flavors.
Leave the bottle visible – if you are serving to guests, they will likely be curious about what they are drinking.
Distribute and drink
What is Aerating?
Aerating means exposing the wine to oxygen to bring out the flavors – yes, this is exactly what happened with decanting. But what if you want to bring out the flavors of your wine without polishing off the whole bottle? Aerating can happen in a number of different ways.
How to Aerate
Swirl in your glass – the most simple way to aerate is exactly what comes to mind when you think of snobby wine drinkers sniffing their glass (which, we have to admit we do from time to time ;) By swirling the wine in your glass, you expose it to additional oxygen which helps break down the tannins and soften the flavors. And voila! Your drink is ready to be savored.
Decant – see above!
Use an aerator – a wine aerator is a snazzy bar tool that looks like a tiny strainer. You simply hold the aerator over your glass and pour your wine through the top slowly so it strains through, injecting the liquid with just the right amount of oxygen. No snobby swirling required.
Ok, but does it actually do anything?
The short answer is yes, but not always. Younger wines, particularly red wines, can benefit the most from decanting and aerating, as they have the most tannins, and therefore taste drier.
Tannins are chemical compounds found in wine and tea.
They are what give you the bitter taste in your mouth and tend to soften with time.
By oxygenating and reducing the tannins, you get to experience more of the complex flavors the wine was designed to have, without the added years of aging and hefty price tag to go along with it.
Most white wine does not need to be decanted or aerated, as the level of tannins is significantly lower. But hey, why shouldn't your Chardonnay get the same love as your Malbec? Keep in mind you want a white wine decanter that allows you to keep the wine chilled – something that can be placed in an ice bucket, or one with a built-in ice reservoir. Champagne, prosecco, and other sparkling wine should not be decanted, as you want the carbonation to be fresh when you serve.
As a general rule, you want to decant older wines, as they have more likelihood of sediment in the bottle, and you want to aerate younger wines, to release the tannins that haven’t had time to soften with age. Long story short? Decanting and aerating are a great way to make a less expensive wine taste like a well-aged bottle.