Wine is stored for years in cellars before it is ready to drink and it needs to be allowed to breathe before it can reach its full flavour potential. Just leaving an open bottle on the bench for a while just doesn’t do the job because the bottle neck is too small for enough air to get into the wine. You need a wine decanter.
Wine decanters have been used for centuries and are designed to widen the surface area and increase the amount of air hitting the wine. Using a decanter is a very effective way to add air to your wine but you can be waiting hours for it to fully decant. Recently a new system of decanting wine has been developed. Instead of leaving wine to decant itself, instant aerating devices actually use physics to pull air into the wine.
I am passionate about wine and I’ve spent countless nights researching and testing different wines, decanters and aerators to find which wines actually need aerating and which tools you should use to maximise their flavors. By the end of this page you will learn which types of wines to decant and which types to not.
How does aerating work?
The act of aerating adds oxygen to the wine. Oxidation is the science name for letting fresh air touch the wine. It is a very real process and is the reason iron rusts and apples turn brown after being cut. Oxidation is usually a bad thing, but not in wine.
The unwanted parts of wine are more affected by air than the good parts. However, if left long enough the whole bottle will be affected and all the flavors and smells will become flat. That’s why an open bottle of wine goes bad within a week, even you put the lid back on.
Tannins, which occur naturally, are a key part of any good wine. You can taste the tannins making wine bitter and adding a sense of dryness. However, excess tannins will overpower softer flavors and ruin what could have been a great bottle. Fortunately, tannins are susceptible to oxidation. Removing extra tannic acid is one of the main reasons to oxidise your wine.
Decanters or Aerators?
As I said before, there are now two main ways to oxidise wine: aerating or decanting. Most wine experts say that you should always decant. Still, aerators are exploding in popularity. Aerating devices will instantly pull in the same amount of air as hours in a decanter. This saves you waiting and means wine can be drunk soon after opening.
Further down I will explain which wines should be aerated, decanted or drunk straight away. You can also do a quick test yourself. To test the wine, pour a small amount in one glass and, with an aerator, pour the same amount into another glass. Then, just taste both and decide which you like best. That’s the best part about wine. It’s all up to your personal taste!
Common Origins: Australia
Description: Strong fruit and chocolate flavours. Very dry with bold tannic flavours.
Oxidation Required: Aerate (Long decanting period)
Shiraz is probably the most popular wine to come out of Australia. It definitely benefits from using a wine breathing device. These wines will often taste super bitter right after opening. Try pouring it through an aerator a few times if you think it needs it.
Common Origins: France
Description: It is the same grape as Shiraz and while there is no standard difference the Syrah is generally considered to be a bit lighter and less fruity.
Oxidation Required: Aerate (Medium decanting period)
Syrah is not as dry as Shiraz but still needs a bit of air before drinking. One pour through an aerator should be enough or at least half an hour in a decanter.
Common Origins: France, United States, Australia, Chile
Description: One of the biggest reds around. Aeration will mellow out this wine very well. Aeration is particularly important for young Cabernet Sauvignon.
Oxidation Required: Aerate (Long decanting period)
If you’re only going to aerate one wine on this list then Cabernet Sauvignon is the one to do. This wine is full of tannic hardness and most people won’t enjoy it without a bit of air first.
Common Regions: Argentina, France, Chile
Description: Medium tannic flavors. Originally from France, Argentina is the reason this wine became popular in the 90’s.
Oxidation Required: Short decanting time
Only some Malbec wines need to be aerated. Usually a bit of swirl in the glass is enough air for this light wine. An aerator is not recommended.
Common Origins: France, United States, Germany
Description: A very light and delicate wine. Considered one of the oldest grape varieties in the world Pinot Noir has been around since Ancient Roman times.
Oxidation Required: Don’t aerate (No aeration required)
Pinot Noir should be drunk straight after you open it. Air makes this wine taste a bit flat. A good one to share, that way you can open fresh bottles later in the night. Usually a safe choice for any occasion.
Common Origins: United States, Italy
Description: Red Zinfandel is a lighter coloured wine and tastes more sweet than bitter. It has medium tannin levels but high acidity makes it taste very bold.
Oxidation Required: Likely but depends
Zinfandel has had a burst in popularity. You really need to taste the wine to know how much air it needs. If you’re not sure then pour it into a decanter and see if it gets better as it airs.
Common Origins: Italy
Description: Sangivese is a medium bodied wine with high tannins. Comes in two main styles; fruity and earthy.
Oxidation Required: Short decanting time.
Generally paired with food, Sangiovese likes a bit of air. The earthy varieties benefit the most from air. One pour through an aerator and it’s ready to drink.
Common Origins: France, United States
Description: Merlot has a low tannic level. A very good wine for those new to reds.
Oxidation Required: Little aeration is required.
Merlot will open up quite a bit with oxidation. This is a good one to pour in a decanter and see how it changes over time. One of my favourites.
- Fruity red wines are often most enjoyable directly from the bottle but stronger wines should be given time to breathe.
Common Origins: United States, France, Australia, Italy, Moldava
Description: While Chardonnay is considered a dry white it is not as dry as the others.
Oxidation Required: Little decanting is required.
Whites in general need little aeration and decanting. Chardonnay is no exception. Drinking straight from the bottle is fine for this one.
Common Origins: France, New Zealand
Description: Sauvignon Blanc is an extremely popular white. It has wide ranging flavours depending on the region.
Oxidation Required: Depends on age.
Sauvignon blanc is often well aged due to its tannic level. A young bottle should be well aerated.
Common Origins: France, Chile, Argentina
Description: A drier wine that is often matched with seafood. Semillon has a strong berry flavour and doesn’t need much aeration.
Oxidation Required: Little to none.
Give it a swish in your glass to release the smell.
Common Origins: Italy, Austria
Description: A sweet and fruity wine.
Oxidation Required: None.
Moscato is a very common and sweet wine. It’s ready to drink as soon as you open it.
Common Origins: Italy, United States
Description: A wine with a strong acidic bite.
Oxidation Required: Short decanting if required.
Pinot Grigio is known for its acidic hit but it is a little much for some. A little air can help dampen the bite if it’s too strong for your taste.
Common Origins: Germany, United States
Description: A slightly sweet wine. Lighter than Chardonnay with a hint of acidity.
Oxidation Required: Short decanting time or one pour through an aerator.
Riesling has a crisp taste like fresh apples. A little aeration can reduce the dryness of the wine if it’s too much.