Wine Aerator vs Decanter: How They Are Different

There are a few styles of wine that improve in flavor from being allowed to breathe, though it may be difficult to remember which ones or how to breathe them properly. There are a few different methods to achieve similar results, so between using a wine aerator or a decanter, what do they do and which one should you use? 

What is the difference between a wine aerator or decanter?

A wine aerator can come in many forms, but the easiest form is a stopper that aerators as your pour the wine. Decanters are vessels that you pour the wine into and allow to “breathe” in the vessel for certain recommended times. 

We’ll explain a little bit more the difference in the two methods so that you can decide which method might be best for you!

What Kind of Wine Needs to Breathe?

Young wines that are high in tannins tend to be harsh, bitter, or cause a puckering sensation when tasted. Tannins are naturally found in all varieties of grapes that are used to make wine. 

Wines that are high in tannins improve with aging. The tannins will polymerize over time, meaning that they will bind together in long chains, making them taste less harsh. Young wines have not undergone a long enough aging process to soften their tannins.

Letting a wine breath, or aerating, the wine introduces oxygen into the wine. The tannins can bind with the oxygen in the air, improving their flavor.

Wines that are aged sometimes develop aromas from the bottle that might be undesirable. Decanting these wines and letting them breathe allow these aromas to evaporate before drinking, allowing the true flavor and aroma the wine to be expressed. 

Examples of young wine, typically less than 5-8 years old, that need to breathe include: 

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Syrah
  • Sangiovese
  • Malbec
  • Tempranillo

Examples of wines that don’t need to breathe include: 

  • Pinot Noir
  • Beaujolais
  • Light Chiantis
  • Most white wines
  • Sparkling Wines
  • Ports
  • Full-bodied red wines older than 8-10 years

How to Use a Decanter

Simply opening a bottle is often not enough to properly oxidize the wine, as the surface area to volume of wine is fairly low. There are several options to aerate the wine, such as using an aerator, decanting, or pouring a glass and waiting. 

Decanting wine provides consistent, reliable results. The wine is poured into a decanter, which has a large bottom bulb and a narrow neck. The wide bottom allows for more air to come into contact with the volume of wine, while the narrow neck allows for easy pouring. Younger wines may need to be decanted up to one to two hours before drinking, while older wines may only need half an hour. 

Finally, wine can be poured directly into the glass, lightly swirled inside the glass, then allowed to rest. While sipping the wine, you should taste improvements to the flavor the longer you take to enjoy your glass. 

Using a Wine Aerator

Wine aerators force wine to come into contact with a lot of air very quickly. As the wine flows through the aerator, the wine is pushed through a funnel. By exposing wine to the oxygen in the air, various compounds in the wine go through chemical reactions that impact their flavor and aroma. While oxidizing wine for a brief time improves the flavor, allowing wine to be exposed to air for too long will actually ruin the wine. 

Aeration also helps evaporate other compounds in the wine, such as ethanol (the alcohol in wine) and sulfites. Aeration won’t get rid of all the alcohol, just a few extra molecules. 

There are several different types of wine aerators, handheld, bottle stopper/pourer, or an aerating decanter. Even these come in various forms. The idea is to increase the amount of surface area of wine that comes into contact with the area. Ideally, a drop of wine would have the most surface area, but separating the wine from one large stream into dozens or hundreds of small streams accomplishes similar results. 

A handheld aerator is placed over the wine glass and the wine is poured into the aerator, similar to pouring into a funnel. The aerated wine will trickle through the aeration chamber into the glass. Be careful not to pour so quickly that the wine overflows the aerator. 

A bottle stopper or bottle pourer is an aerator that attaches to the mouth of the wine bottle. As you pour the wine, the wine flows through the aeration chamber into your glass. This method is very easy to use. 

Aerator vs Decanter

So, should you use an aerator or a decanter? Mostly, the choice is up to personal preference. Allowing a wine to breathe is important to experience the full flavors of the wine. If you don’t like waiting for the wine to breathe in a decanter, an aerator might be better for you. However, decanting usually provides the best results. 

Keep in mind that regardless of method, the shape of your wine glass can also greatly influence the aromas and flavors of your wine. Red wine glasses are on average larger than white wine glasses, but the opening size and the overall volume can affect how vapors released from the wine reach the drinker’s mouth and nose. 

A glass with a wider opening will also allow ethanol vapors to evaporate, dissipating the burn of alcohol more quickly. A larger glass will increase the surface area, similar to as described with a decanter. Wines that need to breathe will benefit from being served in a larger wine glass with a wider opening. 

When deciding between a wine aerator or decanter, the best method is the one that you will actually use. You may pick up a reasonably priced aerator as well as a decanter, then experiment with which method suits your needs and preferences. Experiment with each method, even on the same bottle of wine to find which one you think produces a better tasting wine.