Aerating vs Decanting Wine - What's The Difference

We often get asked in Cellar Door about whether decanting or aerating a wine is actually necessary. The fact that we offer both of these wine accessories to purchase is what usually prompts great questions like this from our curious visitors. So in this post, we’d like to share some information on these very beneficial pieces of wine accoutrement or equipment.

Before jumping in though, it’s important to emphasise that we are fully aware of the subjectivity that’s inherent in the enjoyment of wine. We’re all individual – thank goodness - and it’s up to us whether we choose to decant or aerate, or do both or neither, when we open a bottle. We always encourage you to do like we do - experiment, try different things and just have a go! The main thing is to see which results suit your individual tastes best.

Anyway, on with the information. To start with, let’s clarify the difference between the two processes because many people believe they are the same thing and they are definitely not.

What is Aerating?

Aerating is purposefully invigorating wine with air to bring about changes in aroma and flavour.

What is Decanting?

Decanting is separating wine from any sediment that may be in the bottle. By default, decanting will do some aerating, but it’s usually a much gentler process.

Now, not every wine will require aerating or decanting but there are certain wines that will really benefit from these processes.  And to easily remember which is best for what, they can basically be divided into young and old wines.

Youthful Wines

When it comes to young wines, many can appear tight or closed – to use wine language – or just lacking in the flavours and aromas you expect or remembered, if you’ve tasted them previously.

So this is where aerating will invigorate the wine with oxygen, which helps reveal aroma and flavour. As an added bonus, you could expect to see any of those characters that are described as hard or sharp – which is often tannin and acidity – soften after aerating, or becoming more subdued.

You can expect great results with full-bodied, tannic reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Malbec and styles like that.  However, be careful with delicate reds such as Pinot Noir as their delicate aromas and flavours may be negatively affected by intense aeration so go easy with these lighter styles.

At the winery, aerating is pretty much everyday practice for us with younger reds and even white wines, and we will often aerate the wine as we are pouring into the glass rather than the whole bottle using the handy aerators we have available in Cellar Door.  We avoid aerating old wines as the process can be too aggressive and what little fruit character remains could be lost if these wines are worked over with oxygen.

Older Wines

In the case of older wines, many of these accumulate sediment in the bottle as they age. This is common and is related to the colour compounds dropping out.  Its why older wines are lighter in colour and all part of the ageing process. Decanting the wine separates the sediment out, which if allowed to remain makes the wine taste more astringent, appear muddy and of course, makes for a pretty unpleasant mouthfeel.

To decant successfully, simply follow these steps.

  1. Carefully open the bottle without jiggling it too much, and pour slowly into the decanter while monitoring the wine clarity using a torch/candle/mobile phone camera-light as it shines through the neck of the wine bottle from below. Pour slowly and carefully to ensure the sediment stays in the bottle and doesn’t end up in your decanter! The pouring is also serving to aerate the wine, although very gently.
  2. When you begin to see a trail of fine sediment, stop pouring! This generally leaves around 30-60ml of wine in the bottle along with the sediment. If you want to serve the wine from the bottle, rinse the bottle thoroughly and shake out all excess moisture before using a funnel to pour, slowly and gently (so as not to aerate too much) the wine back into the bottle.

If you don’t own a fancy decanter at home, don’t worry - a clean jug, vase or any other wide, shallow vessel will also do the job. It’s handy to have a funnel as well so you can easily get the wine back into the bottle if it happens you don’t have a decanter for serving. At Cellar Door, we have both the glass decanter and the little glass funnels available to purchase if you’re so inclined.  For a special wine, we recommend decanting a few hours before serving.

So that’s the essential difference between aerating and decanting.  We hope you enjoyed the post.