The dictionary definition of aerate is “to supply or impregnate (as the soil or a liquid) with air.” The dictionary definition of decant is “to pour from one vessel into another.” This simplification helps determine the slight difference between the terms, but the general confusion tends to lie in the fact that aeration happens when you decant, so really, what’s the difference?
Aerating doesn’t necessarily have to happen via decanting and wine drinkers don’t necessarily decant in order to aerate. Confused yet? Let’s take this one step at a time.
How to Aerate Wine
Wines are typically left without exposure to air for an extended period of time before the bottles are opened. The wine needs to be exposed to air in order to expose its full aroma and flavor.
However, not all wines should be aerated. Corks tend to let a small amount of air escape over time, and naturally it makes more sense to aerate younger, bolder red wines, such as a 2012 Syrah. Although there are a few rare cases, white wines do not typically need to be aerated.
There are many different ways wine drinkers successfully aerate wines. The goal is to expose the wine to air, and one of the most rudimentary ways to aerate is to simply swirl the wine in a glass. You can pour the wine into a decanter, use an aerator, or swirl the wine around in a larger container.
All of these options will help soften tannins and allow you to fully experience the wine’s bouquet.
When to Aerate Wine
You can simply ask the vendor at your local wine shop whether or not a bottle of wine should be aerated before drinking.
Another easy way to determine whether or not to aerate wine is to aerate a small portion of wine by swirling it in a glass, and conduct a simple taste test to see if the aerated sample tastes better than a sample directly from the bottle. If you’re not able to smell of the nuances of the wine and it seems a tad wobbly upon first sip, go ahead and try aerating it. If you’re too overpowered by one element of the wine or the tannins seem to be overly intense, you can soften these elements by aerating.
When & How to Decant Wine
The sediment at the bottom of the bottle of aged wine (typically ten years or older) is not poisonous; however, it is gritty, unpleasant to look at, and not exceptionally pleasant to drink.
When it comes to removing sediment, there are not many different or better options than decanting. You can hold a light against the bottle of wine to know when to stop pouring after the sediment has settled at the bottom, or you can simply stop an inch or two from the bottom.
Some people opt to use a candle as a light source for show or to pay homage to how things used to be done. It is best to decant after the wine has been standing upright for at least 24 hours, so pull the bottle from the cellar a day before you plan to uncork.