I was introduced to an incredible Zinfandel/Cabernet Sauvignon blend called THE PRISONER about 9 years ago when my local wine merchant suggested that I try it. And I remember what I was told at the time of purchase:
“Open the bottle, pour a little into a glass, take in the “nose” (the smells), and taste a little bit. Then after pouring the wine into a decanter, leave it for twenty minutes and taste it again, and see if you can tell the difference.”
I did just that. I opened the bottle, took in the aromas of the wine and then took a sip. The wine had a lot of tannins and “structure” to it – a little hard to describe, almost a “tightness” in the feeling of the taste. But after twenty minutes, it became a little “softer”, more “velvety” and “loosened up” quite a bit. It was far more pleasing than the first sip that I had. And of course, by the time the bottle was finished, the wine had become even that more delicious.
This was my first experience understanding how wines actually change throughout the time you are drinking them. You would think that after spending all that time in the barrels and in the bottles that the wine would be ready to drink as soon as you pop the cork. But the wine still changes after it hits your glass.
Why does wine do that? The fact is that wine “opens up” after it comes into contact with the air. And by letting the wine “breathe” and “open up”, the softness and the flavors of the wine come out in the taste and in the smell. This enhances and maximizes the value of your wine experience. After all, you paid good money for the wine, so why not experience it with optimum conditions. Patience does pay off.
Some finer wines that have a lot of tannins and structure can be opened up a couple of hours before you serve it. There are a few ways of expediting this process, but the longer you let wine breathe (within reason), the more of the good characteristics come out. Just leaving the wine in the bottle after opening it up doesn’t really do anything, as the surface area on the wine is minimal. However, pouring wine into a decanter and swirling it around is definitely a good thing to do.
Another way of aerating wine is with an aerator. (What a novel concept.) This handy little tool comes in a few different shapes, sizes and applications. The one that Vinturi makes looks like a mini-funnel that sucks air though air holes and mixes it with the wine as it goes through the downspout.
Another type of aerator looks like a glass bulb that fits onto the bottle and swirls the wine around with the air. I particularly like this one because you don’t have to use two hands for the pouring process, you don’t really need a decanter, and the wine pours easily into glasses.
So what kind of wine benefits from aeration you may ask. (Please – Ask… ask…) I find that you really don’t need to aerate white wine. The structure of white wine is very different from red wine. But there are some people who disagree and they like to aerate all of their wine. (Of course, Vinturi sells aerators for both red and white wine. They claim that white wine needs a different aeration rate. But I have yet to be convinced of that and it sounds like a marketing opportunity to me…) Wines like Cabernet, Zinfandel and Syrah that tend to have a strong structure benefit the most when aerated. Pinot Noirs among other “lighter” varietals don’t really need to go through this process.
But I say experiment with your wines! Taste wines right out of the bottle with no aeration. Then pour wine through an aerator with a glass and see how that tastes. And then pour into a decanter and see how that works for you. It’s all about developing your palate and identifying if you can smell, taste and sense the differences with the same bottle of wine.
I recommend THE PRISONER to do this, mostly because that was the wine that gave me my first “a-ha” moment. (And it happens to be one of my favorite wines.) But I suggest that you do it with one of your favorite red wines and see if you “experience the difference”.