There are plenty of fancy wine gadgets on the market, but how do you know what will actually improve your tasting experience and what’s just marketing? One of the most common tools on the market is a wine aerator, which can range in price from $15 to more than $100. So what does a wine aerator actually do, and is it a worthwhile investment for anyone who isn’t an aspiring sommelier? Here, we explain everything you need to know about this appliance.
What Is a Wine Aerator?
The point of an aerator is to expose a glass of wine to oxygen and enhance its taste and aroma. If a bottle of red says you’ll experience blackberry, cherry, and cloves, an aerator can help to make those notes more pronounced. It can also help soften certain flavors in wine and make it more palatable. "Aeration creates oxidation, which changes a wine's flavors and aromas," explains Cassandra Rosen, a wine educator for Tussock Jumper Wines. "As a general rule, if you're not able to smell the aromas of the wine, or it seems too tannic and intense, you can soften the wine and open it up by aerating it."
Joe Radosevich, chief technology officer for Üllo, agrees. “Some wines can be so concentrated and tannic right after bottling that unless you want to wait several years for it to mellow, aeration and decanting are your best options for getting the most enjoyment out of those bottles,” he says.
Most consumers shopping for wine will consume their bottles within a matter of months, if not weeks or days, and therefore don’t have the time or interest in wine aging. That’s where an aerator comes in handy—it has the ability to express the nuances of a rich burgundy that would otherwise take years to develop.
What Types of Wine Benefit from Aeration?
According to Rosen, if a wine is not exposed to air during the winemaking process (if it's been aged in stainless steel, for example), you may want to aerate it. But if a wine is aged in barrels or concrete, it will have had some natural exposure to oxygen, which reduces the need for aerating. "Red wines will be most in need of aerating, since white wines do not contain tannins—plus, you can enhance the floral and fruit aromas in white wine by simply swirling it in your glass," she says.
Older wines, such as big California cabernets or tannic Bordeaux blends, are often more palatable after they've been poured through an aerator. “Wines with a lot of tannins and robust flavors could use some aeration to help the flavors evolve, open up, and make them more approachable,” says Radosevich.
While aerating expensive bottles of bold reds is often beneficial, the tool does just as good of a job of making a lower-quality bottle taste better too. Just remember that price does not necessarily indicate the quality of a bottle of wine. No matter what you paid, where the grapes were harvested, or what type of wine it is, you can try using an aerator before drinking it to decide whether you—meaning your personal palette—think it enhances the flavor.
Rosen also reminds us to be careful not to overly aerate, as this can make a wine taste flatter and less balanced. "Instead, try pairing wine with food, as the flavors in the dish will enhance what you are tasting in the wine," she says. A fine suggestion.