Aerating Wine: Vinturi, Decanting and Hyperdecanting

Aerating Wine: Vinturi, Decanting and Hyperdecanting
Many people get confused when it comes to letting wine breathe. Can't you just open a bottle of wine, pour it into glasses and drink it?

Well, yes, of course, you can. But letting the wine mix with air causes evaporation and oxidation which will lead to wine that is both easier to smell (from evaporation) and softer in taste (oxidation.) Some of the harshest tasting compounds in wine are highly volatile, so aeration allows them to evaporate, leaving you with the more desirable, flavorful ones. Now, too much of either will leave you with flat wine that tastes like nothing (imagine a bottle left open on the counter for a week, it will have none of the intensity of the first night it was opened.)

One very important note to remember: there is no amount of aeration that will make a bad wine great. The point is to find that sweet spot where the wine tastes the best to you.

In general, many wines need just a touch of aeration, hence the reason you swirl wine in a glass. It allows the wine to "open up" and "breathe." The air gets contact with the wine and you in turn can smell and taste more of the flavor compounds present. Older, more subtle or delicate wines will lose all of their beauty if they are aerated too much, so swirling is about as far as you want to go. If you are worried about splashing or spilling while swirling the wine, simply hold the glass by the stem, keep the base on the tabletop, and move it in small, but fast circles. And don't overfill your wine glass. The wine should come up to the widest part of the bowl, usually less than halfway up the glass, and in the more modern, monster sized glasses, the wine glass will look between 1/4 to 1/3 full.

Young wines, or wines with a lot of alcohol and/or tannin can use a little bit more than just a swirl. The standard for aerating these wines is decanting, moving the wine to another vessel, exposing it to air, and letting it breathe and mellow out. You can buy a fancy decanter, I just use a simple glass pitcher, and depending on the wine, you can decant for 20 minutes or hours, depending on how the wine tastes to you. In general, most white wine will not need aeration beyond swirling. There are a few, I'm thinking big, oak-aged chardonnays, that might benefit from decanting, but I would not put a white through anything beyond these first two means of aeration.

The Vinturi
The Vinturi was born when someone came up with the brilliant idea of creating a gadget that allows you to aerate the wine instantly, while pouring into your glass. It basically funnels and mixes the wine with air as the wine pours through. It is convenient, but a little more aggressive than decanting. In fact, for fine wines, I don't dare use the Vinturi, it seems to over-aerate, can bring out harsh, weird, flavors, or just kill any and all subtleties. But, oddly enough, I've found that for many everyday wines, the Vinturi does a nice job of opening up the wine quickly. I've had a couple of cheap bottles taste undrinkable originally, but after using the vinturi, they evened out and made for a decent glass. Remember my note above though - no vinturi, or anything else, will make a bad wine great, but they can help you bring out the flavors you want, while decreasing the flavors you don't want. And I do not use the Vinturi for white wine, although I see the company has a "white wine" version.

This is a much newer approach, brought to the world by Nathan Myhrvold in his cooking encyclopedia, Modernist Cuisine. His thought is that if aeration is about exposing wine to air, let's take that to the extreme and put the wine in a blender - 30 seconds at high speed should be just the ticket. I can honestly say I do not have the guts to try this method. Maybe someday, with a cheap bottle, I'll try it out. I have no doubt that the blender method of hyperdecanting works, I just fear that it may be too much of a good thing and that going so aggressively with your aeration with either kill the wine, taking it past it's peak, or agitate and heighten the components you don't want in wine. If I ever try this method - I will certainly document and post. A few tips if you want to try hyperdecanting yourself - be sure to leave a lot of extra room, the wine will foam quite a lot. And from what I've seen, people use regular blenders or the stick/immersion style with equal efficacy.

Whatever methods you decide to try, just taste before, taste after, and follow your gut. And if you've got other tips you'd like to share, just let me know!

Happy drinking.