Aerators and decanters are beloved by many a sommelier and bartender. But, they’re often overlooked by those just starting their wine journey and bar owners. That’s a mistake.
Wine decanters and aerators are great ways to increase the flavor and value of a wine with little effort. If you run a business, this is an easy way to increase your profit margin and raise the wine bottle price without needing to invest in more expensive wines.
Read on to learn more about wine decanters and wine aerators, how they work, and the best ones on the market.
A wine decanter is a glass or crystal container wine is poured into to increase the amount of surface area a wine has exposed. This exposure to oxygen speeds up the oxidation process, which lessens the intensity of the acid, eliminates the sulfur-smelling sulfites, and increases the complex flavor of the wine. Basically, many wines taste and smell a lot better after decanting without lowering the sugar in wine or the wine alcohol content.
Decanters range in size and shape, but are generally capable of decanting an entire bottle of wine at once. This is only true of the standard wine bottle, not more unique wine bottle sizes. So, you may need to decant that Magnum bottle in two parts.
What Is a Wine Decanter Used For?
Wine decanters are used to speed up the oxidation process in wine and draw out complex flavors and aromas in wine. It does this by increasing the surface area of the wine that is exposed to the air so oxygen can bond with as many molecules as possible. Wine glasses themselves are designed to increase a wine’s surface area, but they also have smaller openings intended for drinking, which greatly limits the amount fo wine that is exposed to oxygen at any given time. Wine decanters’ unique shapes specifically maximize the areas where wine can rush and flow. They also help bring the red wine temperature to room temperature, which is ideal for serving.
Wine decanters also make it easier to serve aged wines, usually reds, with sediment without pouring that sediment into a wine glass. 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. Do this before using a decanter or the decanter may not fully clear the wine before service.
A wine aerator is a device that wine is poured through, exposing it 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 to let it breathe and develop complex flavors and aromas.
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. More unique models include those built into wine glasses themselves, a separate device you pout the wine through for purification, or even an electric aerator that swirls the wine mechanically before it is poured. Regardless of the type you use, the most important thing is that the wine is exposed to as much oxygen as possible.
A wine aerator is used to force wine to interact with air to accelerate oxidation and evaporation. It does this by sending the wine through a funnel of pressurized oxygen and speeds up the natural oxidation process.
By exposing the wine to unnatural levels of oxygen, the compounds within the wine undergo a rapid chemical reaction. One of those compounds is ethanol, or alcohol. Some of the ethanol is converted to acetaldehyde and acetic acid, which reduces the strong, medicinal, or vegetal aroma that’s often noticeable upon opening a wine bottle for the first time.
Another important chemical reaction that wine aerators accelerate is the process of evaporation. Though evaporation may sound like something you don’t want your wine to do, there are a few benefits that come with it. Two unstable compounds within wine, ethanol and sulfites, are the first to evaporate. While both are crucial to the production of wine, there are always extra molecules of them that float freely and can be removed.
Do Wine Aerators Work?
Yes, wine aerators work because the science behind them is simple and undeniable. When wine is exposed to air, the excess alcohol and sulfites—among other compounds susceptible to oxidation and evaporation—mellow out and evaporate.
That leaves the wine with an ideal ratio of compounds that emphasizes its more desirable characteristics. It’s not uncommon to pour a $15 bottle of wine through an aerator and end up with a wine with qualities closer to a $25 or $30 bottle.
How to Use a Wine Aerator
With so many diverse options for wine aerators on the market, it can be confusing figuring out how to use them. How you use a wine aerator depends on the type of aerator you have. Here are three primary ways to aerate wine.
- Simply swirl it around in the glass a few times. That increases the surface area of the wine and encourages both oxidation and evaporation.
- Use a decanter instead. These glass vessels are designed specifically to increase a wine’s surface area and activate oxidation and evaporation and are generally more effective than aerators.
- Pour the wine through an aerator. These tools speed up the process by using pressurized oxygen.
Decanting wine does two primary things, it aerates wine to enhance its bouquet and flavor profile and removes the sediment from older red wines. To decant wine properly one must know how to use the decanter itself.
How to Use a Wine Decanter
Before even grabbing the decanter, you may need to let wine settle for some time. Wine is typically stored on its side. 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.
Now it’s time to get the wine in the decanter. Depending on the type of wine you’re decanting, you have two routes to take when learning how to use a wine decanter.
Shock decanting, or quick splash decanting, is when the bottle of wine is tipped vertically and poured with the force of gravity into a decanter sitting or being held vertically. The wine hits the bottom of the decanter, splashes, and swirls around the walls of the decanter. This method is best for young red wines that haven’t been aged for long, typically less than 2 years. Shock decanting is meant to vigorously expose the wine to oxygen and further accelerate aeration. Shock decanting will not help you remove sediment, so it’s not a good choice for older red wines.
This is the most common method of decanting and it involves pouring the wine slowly into a decanter. You can either hold the decanter in one hand and pour with the other or keep the decanter on a flat surface and pour the wine in. The key is pouring slowly and without much splashing. This helps fragile, older wines maintain their structure, texture, and color.
It also allows the pourer to spot sediment. Make sure you’re using the decanter is a room with plenty of light so you can clearly keep an eye on the neck of the bottle as you pour. Start pouring very slowly when the bottle becomes parallel to the ground and you the wine may appear dusty, cloudy, or you’ll actually see bits of sediment. The decanter doesn’t filter the sediment out, but the process of pouring the wine into the decanter allows you to see the sediment and avoid pouring it into the glass after.
Now that you know how valuable a decanter can be, you’ll want to make sure you buy the right one. Luckily, we’ve compiled a list of our favorites that can really help you get the most out of your wine collection.
Here are the best wine decanters:
Le Chateau’s wine decanter is lead-free and hand-blown. The benefit of a hand-blown piece over machine-blown is aesthetic, and you can tell with the Le Chateau. Each one-of-a-kind crystal decanter has a wide-bottom base and a slanted spout that flares outward making pouring—both in and out—easier. There are certainly more expensive hand-blown decanters out there, but at this price point getting a hand-blown piece of this quality crystal is a win. You don't need a book about wine to see why this decanter tops our list.
Austria’s world-famous Riedel has been setting the standard for crystal and glassware since the 18th century. Most high-end restaurants have a collection of Riedel glasses specifically for high-quality wines. This traditional vase-shaped glass decanter is the definition of elegance and simplicity, like many of Riedel’s products. And that shape makes it easy to clean. A wider base typically decants wine faster, but time isn’t an issue with the timeless Riedel. Swish it around a few more times if you’re in a rush. If you want a classic, this is your new decanter.
The decanter from Bella Vino is one of the lowest-priced on the list and has a host of great features. It’s made of 100% lead-free crystal with a slanted pour spout, wide base, and specific design for 750 ml wine bottles. That really makes it the ideal decanter. Coupled with great reviews, this gets our choice for the best budget pick.
This gift set is centered around a traditional wide-based hand-blown crystal decanter. Like other wide-base decanters, it’s the least ergonomic to hold (but not difficult by any means) with the most effective use of surface area for the purpose of aeration. In addition to a classic shape, it comes with a cleaning brush, decanter cleaning beads, a cork stopper, and a decanter holder. The whole thing comes packaged in a classy box and would likely thrill any wine lover. For an entire set, the price is right.
The Mulstone Apericena is probably the thickest, most durable decanter on this list. It’s also got a three-sided modern shape with smooth curves that make it ultra easy to hold and pour. The shape also encourages a unique flowing action that aerates wine unlike any other decanter. If you’re after a unique piece with a one-of-a-kind look that isn’t a scorpion, may we suggest the Mulstone Apericena? It also comes with a crystal stopper and a cleaning brush. Which is thoughtful, because with the Apericena’s shape, it’s already very easy to clean.
Like decanters, aerators are only as useful as the quality you buy. More expensive aerators tend to be more efficient at oxidation and will lead to more flavorful wine. But, this doesn’t mean that low-cost options are bad.
Here are our top wine aerators:
The Zazzol is one of the absolute best wine aerators on the market. One thing that repeatedly comes up in reviews for this one is that it’s virtually leak-proof. Overflow and dripping can be a problem with wine aerators, but not so with the Zazzol. What sets the Zazzol apart is its multi-stage aeration process. First, the wine is poured over and dispersed over a cone-shaped plug. Then it drains through over 30 holes before the air is injected into the tube to interact with pressurized oxygen. The fact that it’s easy to use, doesn’t drip or leak, has a three-step aeration, and comes with a gorgeous gift box makes it a steal for the price. It also means you won't need to pick up a wine stain remover before using it.
Unlike hand held aerators, in-bottle wine aerators fit directly into the wine bottle. Upon pouring, the wine runs through the aerator and out a pour spout into the wine glass. They’re especially convenient because you can always aerate wine with one hand free. The Vintorio comes with a ribbed rubber stopper and notched acrylic pour spout to encourage drip-less pouring. Three air holes draw in oxygen from an air tube that’s injected directly into the wine after a flow regulator disperses the wine into a large aeration chamber. One big benefit of the Vintorio is its large aeration chamber, which maximizes the wine’s initial air exposure. We even chose it as one of our best wine pourers.
These stemless aerating glasses don’t send the wine through a stream of pressurized oxygen like the other decanters, but they’re still very, very cool. They’re made of Pyrex glass and include a stemmed internal cell within the glass. Wine is poured into the cell and dispersed into the glass through the bottom. They’re dishwasher safe, wonderfully simple, and very easy to clean. They’re also loads of fun to use.
The Aervana attaches to the top of a wine bottle like in-bottle aerators, but wine is aerated and dispensed through the push of a button. That’s because a tube is inserted into the wine bottle to its base. It touts six times more aeration than gravity-based aerators. Because it doesn’t rely on gravity, it’s battery-powered. If you’re looking for a one-touch, all-in-one aerator that makes the process as easy as humanly possible, this is the one.
Like the Aervana, the BOUARTS is a battery-powered aerator and dispenser combination. Also like the Aervana, it claims six times as much aeration as gravity-based wine aerators. Through a tube inserted into the bottle, the touch of a button sends the wine up into the aerator and out through a pour spout. Once you open the bottle of wine, there's no pouring required. If you’re looking for something dark and minimal—and you’re looking for an aerator and dispenser combo on a bit of a budget—you’ve just found your forever aerator.
Both wine aerators and decanters help with wine oxidation and enhance flavors and aromas. So which is right for you, the aerator or the decanter? It depends what you’re looking for and what kind of wines you drink. Let’s break down the pros and cons.
Wine Aerator Pros and Cons
- Aerates wine immediately
- Available as wine pourer aerators
- Can get a decent one for $10 to $20
- Small and easy to clean and store
- Not good for aged red wines
- Not good for white wines
- Not terribly attractive
Wine Decanter Pros and Cons
- Allows the decanting of more delicate wines like mature reds and whites
- Can be used to increase a wine’s temperature
- The glassware itself is beautiful and adds to the wine experience
- Can take up to 3 hours
- Large, unique shapes make it harder to store and difficult clean a decanter
- On average, more expensive than aerators
The big takeaway here is that wine aerators aerate wine immediately and cost less. If you don’t drink very expensive wines and you’re just looking for a simple way to get the job done, pick up an aerator. And if your mind still isn’t made up, then you should look into wine aerator decanters.
Wine Aerator Decanters
Wine aerator decanters are combination devices. They’re shaped like decanters but have an aerator fixed to the opening. After you uncork a bottle, it's placed right on top. But it’s a simpler kind of aerator, one that maximizes surface area through pouring. The wine isn’t forced through a funnel of pressurized oxygen. It’s poured over nodes that disperse it outward or turn it into a spray of small droplets which cascade down the sides of the decanter.
The wine then comes to rest in a vessel that maximizes its surface area. If you’re going to use one of these, just know that it’s not going to be necessary to decant the wine for very long after pouring it through the aerator. Probably 10–15 minutes. Also note that you should still not be pouring aged red wines or delicate, light-bodied whites through the aerator.
One of the most overlooked aspects of decanters is the value of cleaning them. The longer you go without cleaning, the more likely difficult-to-remove wine stains will set in.
Here are a few tips to help you make that decanter look good-as-new:
- Rinse it ASAP. This is the most important thing you can do when cleaning a decanter. The longer red wine sits, the more set-in stains can get.
- Try some white vinegar. Pour vinegar and hot water into the decanter and let it sit for 10 minutes. Don’t use boiling water as it may be too hot for the delicate glass. Drain, rinse, and the wine should scrub off easily.
- Use some salt. Add some crushed ice and a few pinches of salt then shake the decanter. This combo acts like a scrub brush as the gritty salt scours the stains away.
- Don't use soap. This may seem counterintuitive, but soap is the last thing you want to touch your decanter. Soap leaves residue and streaks that will hurt the overall taste and look of your decanted wine.
Decanter Cleaning Equipment
From beads and brushes to drying stands, there are a number of products on the market that can help you shorten the cleaning time for your decanters. The two main tools are brushes and beads. Decanter cleaning brushes are made of flexible foam, which allows them to clean the wide base of a decanter with ease. We highly recommend you don't use a stiff brush that can’t reach all the crevices and can even damage the decanter. Decanter cleaning beads are small, stainless steel balls that you swirl around in a decanter that loosen stains with each pass. They’re cost-effective and great at covering all surfaces in a decanter.
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