What is the difference between decanting and using an aerator?
They are essentially the same thing. By pouring your wine into the decanter and letting it breathe you are exposing more of the wine to air than you would by leaving it in an open bottle. When you pour your red wine thru an aerator you are also exposing the wine to air, but in a manner that works much more quickly. If you do not have an aerator you can speed up the decanting process by pouring wine once or twice between decanters or pour from the decanter back into the wine bottle using a funnel. Both of these methods will increase the exposure of the wine to air.
What wines should be decanted or aerated and how does this benefit the wine?
Typically you only decant red wines, rarely white wines, and never champagne. The red wines that will benefit are less expensive and big bold red wines. If you happen to have a Pinot Noir that is on the acidic side or from a very bold vintage you may want to consider decanting this wine. Less expensive wines can sometimes have an unpleasant odor that will detract from the wine tasting experience. Decanting the wine will allow the odor to dissipate more quickly and make the wine much more appealing to your palate. Big and bold red wines like Cabernet Sauvignons, Italian wines such as Barolos, Chiantis, Super Tuscans, etc., Syrah, Malbec, Petit Sirah, etc. can greatly benefit from decanting as this will allow the tannins to soften.
How long should I decant wine?
Decant wine for five minutes to two hours depending upon the wine; however, the action of pouring the wine from the bottle into the decanter does most of the work instantly. As mentioned before, using an aerator speeds up the decanting process and there are even some aerators that you can dial to select the amount of time the wine would spend in a decanter.
We personally have had a few experiences where decanting or aerating a wine has significantly improved the wine tasting experience. We had the opportunity to drink a very nice 2008 Pinot Noir with a friend. We opened the bottle and immediately poured each of us a glass. Upon tasting the wine it was very harsh and not enjoyable. I set the bottle aside as we enjoyed other wines and about 45 minutes later I tasted the wine again and it was soft and ripe and wonderful.
The addition of a nice decanter or aerator to you wine accessories will help you enjoy more of the wines you purchase or have stocked away in your cellar.
Lisa and Brian Dunagan
The Ashland Wine Cellar