Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Aeration - Getting Your Proper Swirl On

One of my main goals is to help you to get the most out of the wine you buy. Whether you’ve decided to throw down $50 or even $100 on a nice Cabernet Sauvignon to serve along with a nice steak or are just enjoying a bottle of your favorite $10 everyday wine, you want to make sure you can get the most of your wine purchase.  Many times I have opened a new wine I’ve been anxious to try with great expectations only to take a sniff and.... nothing or at least not much aroma at all.

I chose aeration as the topic for my first couple of posts, as I believe it is one of the most important factors in getting the most out of your wine. Getting a wine aerated is more involved with red wine and can be aided by some wine gadgets out there, but most whites, rosés, and dessert wines can also benefit from some amount of aeration.

Aeration is simply the introduction of air, specifically oxygen to help release the aroma of the wine which is critical for your to experience the actual flavor or the wine.  

We are only able to distinguish five “tastes”:
  • Sweet
  • Salty
  • Sour
  • Bitter
  • Umami (pronouced like a child announcing to their mother they don’t like Brussels Sprouts - “ew-mommy”) or savory. Think of the taste of Miso soup or Soy Sauce minus the saltiness.
If all we were able to perceive in a wine were these five tastes, wine (or any other food or drink for that matter) would not be very interesting.  Where things get interesting is the addition of our perception of aroma and texture (texture refers to how light or heavy the wine feels - think skim milk vs whole milk).  The human nose has about 1,000 different type of receptors to detect aromas, and has the capability of detecting about 10,000 different aromas (Read More). 

Catching Some Air

For most all white wines and rosés, all you really need to do to aerate is to swirl the glass as you drink. Some red wines will benefit from a little extra aeration action as we’ll discuss later, but once the red is in the glass, the same swirling advice applies.

Swirling really does help, so don’t be afraid - and just do it!. Here is a video that shows some swirl technique


I recommend keeping the glass on the table as much as possible, I have had many fewer accidents that way.  The choice is yours, just keep some Oxy-Clean handy!

When you get that glass of wine in your hand, take a whiff and see what type of aroma you can detect. It is not important that you identify every aroma (like the “Flutter of a nutty Edam Cheese” from the movie Sideways), just get a sense of what the wine is showing you. Then give that glass a good swirl and take another whiff. Notice any changes?  I typically continue to swirl and sniff throughout the glass (or bottle) to see if the aromas change over time.  Don’t forget - the aromas will impact what you experience as the flavor of the wine, so all this swirling business can help how you enjoy the important part - actually drinking the stuff!

Not only does swirl help you maximize the flavor of the wine, but it can also be a conversation starter.  “Hey I’m getting some green grass and cat pee aroma from this New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. What about the rest of you?” (Read More). It might be best to leave off the Cat Pee part if you are a guest enjoying someone else’s wine!  

Cue the UB40 - Red, Red Wine can benefit from some special attention for aeration. For your everyday bottle, just getting your swirl on will probably suffice, and who wants to turn enjoying an everyday wine into a big event with gadgets to find, use, and clean afterwards?? For other wines, say a nice Cabernet Sauvignon you just bought for some nice steaks (red wine pairs nicely with the protein in the steak, medium rare is the best meat temperature to enjoy with your wine) how do you know if you need to do more that just swirl?  The good news is that most red wines, except very old and delicate ones (10 - 20 years old) will benefit from additional aeration. 

Here is a good spot to give a quick mention differences between wines made in the U.S. and those made in most other places in the world. The guidelines that country’s like Spain must follow require the winery to age the wine until it should be ready to drink, before  they are allowed to release it to the public. U.S. wines on the other hand often get released to the public before they are ready to drink, needing some number of years of aging in the bottle to be at their peak. This is another benefit of good aeration, it will take the place of bottle aging allowing you to enjoy your wine now, so you don’t have to buy a bottle now for that steak dinner you will be having one, two, or even five years from now. So, for those Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Washington etc red wines you buy - I recommend a bit of aeration beyond just the swirl.

Please come back for: Aeration Part II: Gadgets