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I’m not fond of gadgets so have never embraced any of the many aeration devices designed to help the aromatic intensity of red wines emerge more quickly than swirling it in your glass.
Having said that, if you took away my decanters, I’d feel lost.
On many levels, aerators and decanters serve a similar purpose. They expand the surface area of the wine, which encourages contact with air and helps to enhance its scent and flavour. Young and robust red wines, in particular, can benefit from aeration, which can soften tannins and allow more fruit and acidity to emerge. You might also like the effect it has on full-bodied whites, such as many chardonnays from California or barrel-fermented chenin blancs from South Africa, or even inexpensive sauvignon blancs or rosés that are bottled with screwcap closures. The introduction of air helps to release some gases that developed in-bottle and allow more enjoyable fruity notes to shine.
Fans of aerators tout the ease and efficiency of these little and often affordable gadgets that are either placed in the bottle as a pour spout or held by hand over a wineglass. Some are designed to sit atop a decanter to introduce more air into the wine as it travels through the device. Aerators are widely available at houseware stores, specialty shops and online.
By forcing the wine through a funnel of pressurized oxygen, the aeration process is immediate as the wine gurgles into your glass or decanter. Aerators get the job done without having to drag a decanter out of the cupboard. Enthusiasts also appreciate they are easier to clean and store than a decanter.
Aerators aren’t useful for older red wines that may have developed sediment (the natural and safe gritty bits that can form in wine over time) that may clog the device. (Sediment shouldn’t be an issue for young wines; it isn’t harmful but can taste pretty nasty.) Aged wines can also be more fragile or delicate. A sudden whoosh of air might spoil the drinking experience of that special bottle that had been lying in wait for so long. Decanters work better in such instances, allowing you to pour the wine into a clean vessel without disturbing the sediment.
I think one of my issues with aerators is that I’m not usually in a rush to enjoy my wine at its peak, so to speak. I’m happy to swirl, sniff and sip as it opens up in my glass. It’s a pleasurable part of the experience. But many enthusiasts enjoy the effect their aerator has on their wine. They also likely appreciate the ritual of preparing and pouring their glass, which enhances their enjoyment as much as the flavours they perceive in the glass. If that sounds intriguing, try and see for yourself.