Almost anyone who drinks red wine occasionally knows that the last sip from the bottle tastes far better than the first. This is due to the wine getting oxidised, a process that softens its bite and teases out the aromas.
Despite this, very few people allow wine to breathe before they drink it, possibly because they assume that the process of decantation is another piece of wine affectation. It requires allowing the wine to rest in a decanter — or any vessel with a broad base that exposes the liquid to air — for usually between 30 and 60 minutes. You don't need a fancy Riedel crystal swan decanter (which costs some $ 400) for the purpose; any carafe or jug will do the trick.
Aerating wine — particularly youngish full-bodied reds — smoothens out the tannins, (the chemical that makes the wine astringent and mouths pucker); it also eliminates a possible stale odour, the ‘bottle stink' that vanishes when wine is aired.
Decantation also serves another purpose. The acrid and disagreeable sediments in some old wines settle at the bottom, the principal reason that decanters were invented. But of course, this is no longer the main reason for letting wine breathe; most reds today are sediment-free, thanks to modern methods of fining and filtration.
The reluctance to decant is not only a result of the belief, it is a snobbish wine ritual that serves no purpose. Decantation requires planning — you need to open a bottle at the right time and allow it to breathe for just enough before you serve it. Decantation also requires some knowledge — while you are advised to decant heavy full-bodied varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignons, Malbecs and Barolos, others — particularly Pinot Noirs — can suffer from exposure to air. Finally, decantation doesn't lend itself to serving wine at the optimal temperature — it can raise temperatures too much or too little depending on the climate.
Given this, it's not hard to see why a new product has become the biggest selling wine accessory around the world, both retail and online. The wine aerator is an ingeniously simple device through which wine is poured as it is held over the glass. The aerator sucks in air with an intense whooshing sound providing what its manufacturers as well as many wine critics/users refer to as instant aeration.
The most popular make — the Vinturi — offers an aerator for white wine as well (www.vinturi.com). Some whites such as Chardonnays do benefit from breathing and this aerator is said to be designed with different dimensions and flow rates keeping white wine in mind. Vinturi aerators have just begun to be marketed in India, selling for Rs. 3,500.
All right, wine aerators take some of the romance away from wine drinking. A crystal decanter is far more attractive than a modern device that emits an unattractive sucking sound with every pour. But aerators work and going at the rate at which they are being sold, seem set to become a standard accessory in restaurants and wine-drinking households.