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What is an aerator?

Erin O'Reilly - Certified Specialist of Wine

Avid wine drinkers likely own an aerator or two. These gizmos may look gimmicky, but wine aerators can alter the wine in your glass in unexpected ways. Here’s a rundown on why and how to aerate your wine.

Why Do You Aerate Wine?

Every time you pour yourself a glass of wine, you’re technically ‘aerating’ it. This means that you’re introducing oxygen and triggering evaporation.

And if you’ve been known to swirl your wine before taking a sniff or sip, you’re also familiar with the basics of aeration.

a glass of red wine being poured and aerated

What Does an Aerator Do for Wine?

A wine aerator works by introducing small amounts of oxygen to the wine, typically while you pour yourself a glass. Oxygen and evaporation can lift a wine up, enhancing the overall experience.

Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way: Volatile compounds.

You know that little warning label on wine bottles “Contains Sulfites”?

Some wines can be over-sulfited and smell a little match-sticky. The sulfite’s aroma, a volatile compound, evaporates quickly. So, by aerating the wine, the sulfite smell will, in wine terms, blow off. If you find a wine that smells like matches, running it through an aerator, or at the very least swirling the wine vigorously, will improve the wine’s aromatics.

Another smelly compound is sulfide. This one has the stinky reputation of rotten egg or onion skins. Not the most pleasant of wine aromas. Sulfide, too, can blow off with aeration.

Wines that smell a little of rubbing alcohol, or ethanol, may also benefit from aeration making the wine more expressive.

The extreme end of aeration is oxidation, which will leave your wine muted and dull. If you’ve left a partial bottle of wine out on the counter for a few days and realize it just doesn’t have that special something anymore, you’re not imagining things. The wine’s oxidized.

How to Aerate Wine

You have a couple of options to choose from if you need to aerate your wine.

  • Decanting: Pour the wine into a decanter that gives the wine a broad surface area. Decanting is a good alternative to an aerator for older wines.
  • Swirling: Swirling the wine vigorously doesn’t require any special equipment and will aerate the wine.
  • Bottle Top Aerators: Insert an aerator into the top of your wine bottle and pour the wine into your glass. The aerator ‘gurgles’ as it introduces oxygen to the wine while you pour.
  • Hand-Held Aerators: Hold the aerator in one hand over your glass and pour the wine through the aerator.

wine glasses being filled with a bottle with an aerator

How to Use a Wine Aerator

The experiential entertainment value of wine aerators cannot be understated. If you opt to try an aerator, you can pour yourself two samples of wine: a sample without the aerator, and then a second sample with the aerator.

Can you tell the difference between the two wines?

This easy side-by-side comparison will help you decide if aerating wine improves the quality. You may opt to pour a full glass of wine through the aerator, or ditch the device and stick with the wine as-is.

Your preference will likely change depending on the wine you’re enjoying.

What Wines Benefit from Aeration?

You may purchase a big, brawny red wine, and go to pour yourself a glass only to sense the wine’s closed off and not what you expected. Or maybe the wine seems more alcoholic than fruity, or perhaps it’s got a little funk on the nose.

All of these wines could benefit from aeration.

What wines don’t you aerate?

Ethanol and sulfites are volatile compounds and will blow off during aeration, but some favorable wine aromas - the good stuff - are also volatile, meaning that aerating the wine could ruin its profile completely.

You’ll want to avoid aerating aromatic whites, like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, or Gewurztraminer.

If you aerate older red wines, you may lose some of their unique aromatics. Stick to decanting for your venerable bottles.

We've got no shortage of wine here at Gold Medal Wine Club, so it's a great chance to put your aerator to the test! Try out a few different varietals and see what you like!

Erin O'Reilly Author Bio Image Author Bio: Erin O’Reilly, Certified Specialist of Wine, is a wine writer and educator. She pens her work from Monterey wine country where she raises a glass to the growers and producers dedicated to crafting great wines.