Decanting wine can make a beautiful centerpiece for your table. But, decanting wine has a purpose beyond beauty as well. So, what does a decanter do? And does decanting, or aerating, wine reduce a hangover? And what’s the difference between a decanter and an aerator, anyway? Let’s take a peek.
What is a Decanter?
Decanters are tall, wide, glass pitchers that are used to serve wine. The point of decanting is to give the wine a wide surface area that is exposed to the surrounding air. As the air mingles with the wine, it leads to a reduction in tannins, a chemical that creates a drying sensation in the mouth, as well as the development of the bouquet. This makes it easier to smell and identify the essence of the wine. While many people have heard that allowing a wine to, “breathe” makes it better, many assume that simply uncorking the wine in advance of serving is sufficient. Uncorking the bottle isn’t enough to infuse air into the wine, however. The narrow neck of a wine bottle doesn’t create a surface area wide enough to allow enough oxygen into the wine.
The benefit of a decanter is that is works slowly. This slow process allows air to mingle with the wine organically. Wine in a decanter can last for several hours without spoiling, so if you’re hosting a dinner party and have the time, this method is not only impressive visually, but also from a wine development perspective.
What is an Aerator?
An aerator, much like a decanter, serves the purpose of mingling air with wine. In this method, however, the wine is poured into a funnel like device, which infuses air into the wine as it passes from bottle to glass.
If decanting is the preferred method for allowing wine to breathe, why aerate wine at all? The major benefit to using an aerator vs. a decanter is time. An aerator works by passing wine through a device that infuses air into the wine as it is poured. This allows the wine to breathe, thus highlighting the bouquet and tannins, without the necessity of time.
Another popular question is, “Does aerating wine reduce hangover?” The answer is simple: no. Hangovers are the result of overconsumption, not a lack of oxygen in the wine. While some research suggests that high tannins can be linked to migraines, a tannin sensitivity is not the same thing as having a hangover. The best way to avoid a hangover is to drink in moderation and balance your alcohol intake with food, hydration, and time.
What Wines Should Be Decanted/Aerated?
Not all wines need to be infused with air in order to be enjoyed. The fact is, aerating some wines may actually make the experience less enjoyable. As a general rule of thumb, plan on decanting or aerating red wines, and not white wines. This is because red wines, specifically young red wines, have a higher tannin profile and will benefit greatly from allowing air to infuse the wine and mellow those tannins out a bit. Within red wines, certain varietals do better with aeration. These include Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignon. Young reds typically do best with about an hour to aerate before serving.
Old reds can also benefit from some amount of decanting. This is because, after some amount of time in the bottle, some chemicals and tannins can begin to bind together and create sediment in the bottle. This is generally a non-issue in wines that are younger than 10 years. However, after reaching that decade mark, sediment begins to be a concern and decanting can help separate it from the wine. To do this, simply store the bottle upright for a matter of days, and then pour into the decanter slowly, leaving the sediment at the bottom of the wine bottle. Old reds need significantly less time to decant. Plan on no more than 15 minutes.
The exception to the red wine rule is a white wine that is full bodied and dry. Good candidates for decanting include White Bordeaux and Alsace. Give the whites about 30 minutes in the decanter, but be careful that they don’t become too warm while aerating.