What are aerators and decanters? To understand this question we must first look at the techniques to which they were built for. The main goal of both aeration and decanting is to ultimately increase the amount of oxygen exposure your wines get by expanding its surface area. In doing so will elevate the flavors and aromas of your wines. Although aerating and decanting do share similarities there are key differences that distinguish these techniques from each other.
To start, let’s talk about aerators. Aerators are typically small devices that are placed in, on the bottle or held by hand. There are some variations of aerators that disperse the wine across multiple spouts which ultimately expedites the aeration process. However, with that being said, all aerators serve the same function - to increase the wine’s exposure to air.
Aerators are best used for young, rich, and tannic red wines that have either a muted or overpowering flavor. Tannins are essentially a group of bitter compounds in the wine that come from the fruit skins, seeds, stems and the wood barrels to which it was aged. They provide texture to the wines and are responsible for the drying sensation in your mouth after you drink red wine. Besides that, aeration softens those flavors caused by those tannins, which in turn allows the fruit and acid to take the spotlight.
Most aerators do not address the issue of physical sediments in the wine as the sediments can clog up the aerators. These sediments are a build-up that comes from the fermentation process and leftover yeast. This issue is not very common among younger wines but is more prevalent in older wines. Decanters are used preferably for older wines because of the sediment issue. However, if you pour slowly and properly, you can minimize the amount of sediments going into your glass. Fun fact, many sommeliers use a flashlight or candle to illuminate the wine, revealing the sediments. Once the sediments reach the neck of the bottle, it is a good sign to stop pouring the wine.