Wine Aeration Fail

A while back I did a post titled “To Decant Or Not” where I expressed opposition to the idea that decanting (other than to remove a wine from sediment), aerators, or blenders improves wines subjected to that treatment. In my post I suggested that “improvement” is relative, and that not everyone would agree. Writing for Smithsonian, Lisa Bramen picked up on that bit from my post and finished her piece with:

…if you want to try decanting, go for it. If you like the results, keep doing it. If you don’t, or you can’t tell the difference, don’t bother. Decanting, as with everything about wine, is a matter of taste.

Today Tyler Colman (Dr. Vino) brought attention to a piece on Bon Appetit where one of those aerator thingamajiggys was used on four different wines, which were presented in blind pairings with the un-aerated wines to a panel of three New York sommeliers. The take home message?

“The [device] definitely does something, but in three of four cases it turned the wines–each quite different stylistically–into less desirable versions of their former selves… This group of sommeliers unanimously agreed that the risk isn’t worth the occasional payoff.”

No this was not a rigorous trial, and there is no statistical significance to the results. But it is one more point in the meta-analysis, and one that supports my position–don’t decant or aerate if you don’t have to.

[Incidentally, I realize this is my first post in two months. Did you miss me? Hah! I didn’t think so. Well, there was harvest, and then there was bottling, and then there was our first big Wine Club shipment to get out since February. Excuses, excuses. Anyway, unlike Jeff Lefevere I have not retired from writing (miss you, Jeff) and with the holidays upon us I have more time out of the office, and plan to wrap up and post several pieces I have in the works. Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year! Happy holidays to all.]

3 thoughts on “Wine Aeration Fail

  1. Samantha Dugan

    I for one missed you!

    I admit that I do “splash” young red Burgundy before my classes/tastings and find that I like the way it seems to open or brighten them up a bit. I don’t do it with all of them but if I run through the wines and find some that appear closed or shy, I will grab my trusty water pitcher and funnel. The results have almost always been favorable…same thing with young Barolo. I have also found that decanting a stinky or very veggie smelling Loire Cab Franc can exaggerate those traits and the same has been true of some aggressively oaked wines that I’ve tried to smooth out by decanting…just makes it worse. So I guess the answer is, “depends”…

    Happy holidays to you and yours dear friend. It was so nice to see your name move up my blogroll!

  2. Ron Washam, HMW

    Hey John,

    Sure, I missed you. But I thought it was two years since you posted. Only two months? OK, maybe I overreacted.

    I saved an article from the NY Times of January 2009 written by Harold McGee that spoke about these issues. He and Darrell Corti and Andrew Waterhouse, a professor of wine chemistry at Davis, were testing devices like the Wine Wand and the Clef which claim all kinds of powers over changing a wine for the better.

    To quote the article:

    “Mr. Waterhouse thought the elimination of sulfur aromas is all that these accessories–or, for that matter, aeration–had to offer.”

    “‘You can saturate a wine with oxygen by sloshing it into a decanter, but then the oxygen just sits there,’ he said. ‘It reacts very slowly. To change the tannins perceptibly in an hour, you would have to hit the wine with pure oxygen, high pressure and temperature, and powdered iron with a huge catalytic surface area.'”

    The second paragraph refers to claims that some of these wine toys made that they modified the wine’s tannins. But Professor Waterhouse argues against the idea that decanting promotes rapid oxidation or a quick softening of the tannins.

    Folks love the aerators these days, but I think that simply pouring the wine into a glass has the same effect as running it through a bunch of channels, except you don’t have the bubbles. The detectable changes using metal catalysts, like the Wine Wand has, come from “…the loss of the unpleasant sulfur compounds, which reduces our overall perception of harshness.”

    OK, so there are changes, but not the ones we think. And an aerator, which doesn’t have a metal catalyst to remove the sulfur compounds, essentially has no effect. Nor does decanting, except to a slight degree.

    I’m not smart enough to argue with all that stuff. But my long experience has always told me that a quick decant makes only a little difference, but a long time in a decanter, two or three hours, makes a very big difference.

    Remember when I was funny?

    Don’t you miss me?

  3. John M. Kelly Post author

    Hi Sam – looks like a new blogger feature – your blogroll is ordered by most recent posts. Actually kinda cool. When I read your comment I’m reminded of the admonition: “professional in a closed setting; do not attempt this at home.”

    Ron – you ARE being funny! Bringing science into this discussion? Hi-LAR-ious! Dude this is a matter of belief! Faith! If I blew $30-$100 on a magic thingamajiggy you bet I would want to believe it “improved” the wines.

    And yeah I’ve missed you guys. Let’s do another dinner in the new year.


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