At first glance, aerating wine may not seem necessary. And in some cases, it’s not.
If you’re curious about which wines you should aerate—and which you can drink right from the bottle—read on.
First, let’s talk terms. Aerating wine involves simply exposing it to air.
Now, let’s talk process. Ideally, you’ll empty the wine into a decanter after opening the bottle. If you don’t have a decanter, pour the wine into the glasses you’ll be using to drink it and leave the wine exposed to the air.
During aeration, wine reacts to gases in the air, setting off the chemical processes of evaporation and oxidation.
What does that mean?
During evaporation, volatile compounds exit the wine. (These volatile compounds often smell medicinal and impart harsh flavors.) Sulfites, used to preserve wine, also take their leave upon meeting the air. (They sometimes smell off-putting). Now, you’re left with the delicious bouquet. During oxidation, flavors and aromas in many white wines flatten.
Related: Importance of smelling wine before you taste
Not All Wine Needs Aeration
This is where it gets tricky. If you aerate a delicate white wine made to be consumed upon release, you risk oxidation. White wines generally don’t benefit from aeration like reds. Fine age-worthy wines like white Bordeaux, white Burgundies, Alsatian whites,and some Chardonnay and Riesling, however, do benefit from aeration.
The wines that benefit most from longer (an hour-plus) aerations are cellar-aged premium reds. You’ll get a tight, closed wine if you drink them straight from the bottle .
Give these reds some air, though, and they’ll unfurl their charms, like a peacock opening its feathers, a universe of complex flavors and aromas you’d otherwise miss.