Some wines need to take a breath to reveal their aromatic and taste potential. What wine should be aerated before serving? Why and How?
The modus operandi and the carafe will vary considerably with the objectives. Aeration and decantation are usually used as synonyms but they aren’t the same. Lets see why.
Why some wines have to be aerated?
The large majority of wines that haven’t reached maturity yet need to be aerated. Sometimes we hear saying that aeration “allows the wine to get some years”. This is not totally correct, but helps us to give the idea of the oxygenation. Oxygen melts tannins, wakes up aromas and adds balance to wine. Furthermore, aeration allows wine to get rid of some odour's defects.
What wine has to breathe?
The majority of red and white young wines benefit from aeration. Robust wines with strong tannins are those who need to be aerated more to round their tannins.
However, you have to be really careful when letting young wine breath since some are fragile and very sensitive to oxygen, as for instance non-sulphites wines.
In case of mature and older wines, rules are more complex. On the one hand aeration allows revealing hidden aromas, on the other hand it risks to ruin the drink. For instance, we usually say that vintage pinot noirs with weak tannins could suffer from aeration if it isn’t done very carefully.
How to aerate wine?
To oxygenate a young wine it is sufficient to pour it into a carafe. Wine must be gently slid down the side of the carafe. Prefer a carafe with a large base, so that a larger surface of wine is exposed to oxygen. Never close the carafe because the aim is to let the wine take a breath. Normally aeration lasts one hour, but you can leave the wine in the carafe until 3 hours in case you have a very tannic young wine.
For older wines, aeration should be much shorter. An alternative could be to “bring the bottle up to room temperature”. This practice consists in opening the bottle six hours before the tasting and leave it at 13°C in your wine cellar. Doing so, wine becomes finer and more elegant.