Learning how to use a wine aerator is a useful skill for any bartender, server, or sommelier. But, first, you should understand what an aerator is and why you should or shouldn't be using one.
The first topic that needs to be addressed is what are tannins in wine. Essentially, the tannins are a group of naturally occurring, bitter-tasting compounds found in wine. These are what is most affected by the aerating process and increase the flavor profile in the wine. They are also more prevalent in red wine types.
Keep reading to learn what a wine aerator is, what red wines should be aerated, and whether its worth aerating types of white wine.
What Is a Wine Aerator?
A wine aerator is a device that exposes wine to more air than it would otherwise be exposed to through the normal process of opening a wine bottle. It is used prior to pouring a standard wine pour into a glass to let it breathe.
Aerators can be shaped and designed in many ways. One of the most popular types of aerators is the in-bottle wine aerator, which is inserted directly into a wine bottle’s opening and works as a pour spout while aerating the wine. They can also be built into wine glasses, a separate device you pout the wine through, or even an electric aerator that swirls the wine mechanically before it is poured. The most important thing is that the wine is exposed to as much oxygen as possible.
To best understand what an aerator for wine is, it’s helpful to know exactly what wine aeration is. Wine is a collection of chemical compounds. When wine is uncorked and poured into glassware, those compounds undergo two chemical processes: oxidation and evaporation. Both of these processes help minimize unwanted flavors in wine. That’s why people let their glass of wine “breath” or use decanters. Sometimes for hours and after great ceremony. If that appeals to you, check out our list of the best wine decanters and this resource about wine aerators vs decanters. But a wine aerator makes the process of aeration instantaneous.
Which Red Wines Should Be Aerated?
Most red wines will benefit from aeration. But there are two red wines that will particularly benefit. The first are young red wines. These wines have higher tannins in part because they weren’t aged very long and didn’t give their tannins time to resolve. By aerating them, some of the unwanted chemicals that weren’t released during a longer aging process are released. Essentially, many young red wines can be made to taste and smell a lot better after aerating without lowering the sugar in wine or the wine alcohol content. They also help bring the red wine temperature to room temperature, which is ideal for serving to customers and guests.
The second type of wine that aeration is especially helpful for is old red wine with sediment. The sediment in aged wine is, in large part, tannins that have bound together through age and are no longer suspended. This surplus of tannins, even if on the bottom of the bottle, can cause old reds to grow bitter. And aeration is a great antidote to that. However, older wines, especially red ones, can be fragile and do better in decanters than mechanized aerators. If there’s any chance you're going to open a wine bottle that has sediment in it, let the wine stand upright for 12–16 hours for the sediment to settle. Wine bottles are often tinted by design to minimize the risk of bottle shock and damage from direct light, but this also makes it easier for you to miss the sediment when you go to pour it.
Do You Aerate White Wine?
Yes, you can aerate white wine. But only some white wines benefit from aeration. Those are the heavier, full-bodied whites from Bordeaux, Alsace, Burgundy, and some chardonnays. The rule of thumb is that the heavier and more red-like a white, in terms of complexity and body, the more it will benefit from aeration. You can take a look at this types of wine chart to discover some white wines that are good candidates for aeration. White wines that are reduced, or have flavor profiles and scents that are compromised due to extended storage or bottle shock, can be slightly improved with a brief aeration.
The reason why the majority of white wines don’t need aeration is that they’re typically young wines. They don’t have the tannins or the age that require their bouquet or flavor profile to be tempered. In fact, aeration can even reduce the flavors and aroma in this wine because they will become oxidated more quickly. However, they're still important to keep on your menu, especially if it's a food and wine pairing menu, and you offer fish. You don't even need to use a wine stain remover if you spill any!
Up In the Aerator
Aerators are one of the bartender tools that should really be in your toolbox. They're a great way to enhance the flavor of a wine without having to wait a few hours for a decanter to do the job. Just remember, you won't be able to achieve as much oxidation as with a decanter.