Wine Aerator vs Decanter: What is the Difference?


As a beginning wine enthusiast, you will stumble upon two terms that may not be too easy for you to differentiate: an aerator and a decanter. Don’t worry, because not a lot of wine enthusiasts know the difference of the two anyway. In this article, you will learn what makes those two different and what their purposes are.

To start the lesson on wine aerator vs. decanter, let us establish first that the two actually serve a similar endgame. Both the processes of aerating and decanting help wine expand its surface area with the use of air so that it gets a stronger aromatic profile or softer tannins. These two are just different methods for achieving that.

An aerator forces air to circulate throughout the wine while a decanter is a larger vessel in which the wine is placed to allow expansion. You can actually aerate wine through the use of decanting, but it doesn’t necessarily happen when you decant.

So what is the difference?

According to the English dictionary, the definition of “aerate” is “to introduce air into (a material)”, while the definition of “decant” is “to gradually pour (liquid, typically wine or a solution) from one container into another.”

But the main difference between the two methods is the time it takes to aerate and to decant. If you want your wine to be softer in texture (reduced tannins) quickly, an aerator will do that for you in just a matter of minutes. An example of an aerator is a Vinturi, which is a relatively small tool that you just have to hold above your glass while you pour wine through it. You will see your wine bubble as it flows through the handy device and the aerator does its job. An aerator is the better option if you don’t have a lot of time in your hands.

On the other hand, if you are preparing for a major celebration with special guests and you have a lot of time to spare, a decanter is the better choice. A decanter is simply a container, typically glass, in which the wine is poured into through a funnel. It can hold the wine for hours without it spoiling. This method of softening the wine is preferred when there are guests  to whom the wine will be presented, as it is a much more elegant way to do it than using an aerator.

How to Aerate Wine

As you know, a wine is usually left sealed in a bottle for a long period of time without any exposure to air until a wine bottle is opened, ready for drinking. This is the only time that the wine is exposed to air and develops its full flavor and aroma.

Aerating the wine exposes it to more air with the use of an aerating tool to soften its tannins so that you get to enjoy its full flavor. There are many easy ways to aerate the wine, and you don’t even need to use a device to do so. The simplest way is to just swirling the wine in the glass or a larger container, because you just need to expose the wine to more air. You can even use a decanter for this purpose.

When to Aerate Wine

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that not all wines will benefit from being aerated. Older wines do not need to be aerated since corks tend to let some amount of air get into the bottle over time anyway. Wines aged 10 years and older don’t need aerating. On the other hand, younger wines will get benefits from being aerated. Bolder and richer wines like the Syrah also tend to get better with aeration.

If you want to make sure that a particular bottle of wine needs to be aerated or not, you can always ask the vendor about it. You can also conduct an easy test with a small amount of the wine. Simply swirl it in a glass, taste, and determine if it tastes better than what is remaining in the bottle. Another way is to check if the wine is a little too overpowering for you. If it is too intense, go ahead and aerate it to soften its tannins.

How to Decant Wine

Older wines usually have some sediment at the bottom of the bottle. This is because after a long time of being stored, dead yeast cells or bits and pieces of grapes and seeds settle to the bottom. This sediment is not harmful at all, but it can be unpleasant to the eyes, and you may want to get rid of it before serving wine to guests at a party.

Decanting doesn’t just expose the wine to the air, it’s also a great method for getting rid of sediment. Pour the wine into another container and stop an inch or two from the bottom, or hold a light against the bottle to know when to stop so that the sediment is left behind. The best time to decant for this purpose is after the bottle has been standing upright for at least 24 hours. This ensures that the sediment is all settled to the bottom of the bottle.

How Long Should I Decant Wine?

Decanting wine is a great idea especially if you want to improve the flavor of a cheaper wine. Most red wines need decanting, while most white wines do not. You can decant for as short as 30 minutes up to 3 hours, but it depends on the kind of wine. Here are some tips on how long to decant wine based on the type.

  • Zinfandel – 30 minutes
  • Pinot Noir – 30 minutes
  • Malbec – 1 hour
  • Grenache – 1 hour
  • Cabernet Sauvignon – 2 hours
  • Merlot – 2 hours
  • Petite Syrah – 2 hours
  • Shiraz – 3 hours
  • Sangiovese – 2 hours
  • Madeira – 2 hours
  • Port – 2 hours

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