Thursday, May 16, 2013

Aeration - Getting Your Proper Swirl On (Reprise)

This post combines a two part post I made late last year - but I wanted to repost as it is a very important topic - one of the most important in my mind - for getting the most out of your wine. So - one good swirl deserves another!

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.

Below are links to some gadgets out there all designed to provide wine aeration. I have seen a recommendation to throw the wine into a blender for a while (I haven’t tried this as my wine may end up tasting like margarita’s or pesto). The choice of what to use is yours, as long as it aerates, there really isn’t a wrong choice.

The Aeration Gadgets - It’s All About the Accessories

Gadget #1 - The Decanter. The use of a decanter is something that wine geeks like to argue, and some geeks would disagree with my opinion that aeration is vitally important. The process of decanting a wine, or pouring it into another vessel, gives you an opportunity to pour the wine through a stainer to remove any sediment that may have formed in the wine as it aged in the bottle. It is perfectly normal to have some sediment, especially if the wine label identifies it as an “unfiltered” wine.  Your wine may or may not need to be poured through a strainer, but another benefit of decanting is that it helps aerate the wine.  In fact, many decanters like the one pictured below are designed with a super-wide bottom to expose your wine to the maximum of air. The wine will get some aeration from being poured into the decanter, and some additional aeration if your decanter is shaped like the one below, but I also like to give the decanter a swirl every 10 or so minutes to help promote even more aeration (this may take some practice, but don't be afraid to give it a good swirl). I use and recommend the flat bottom model (wasn't that a Queen song?) - like the one pictured on the left below:

Gadget #2 Wine Aerator. With a name like this how can you go wrong - this thing Aerates!!!. With these gadgets, you pour the wine through the aerator, either as you pour into the glass, or even as you pour from the bottle into a decanter, thus achieving multi-gadget status. There are different brands, the one I use and really like is the VinturiIf pouring into a bottle, you just hold the aerator above the glass. For a decanter, the aerator will fit in the neck of most wine decanters so you don’t have to hold it. It take a little work to pour wine quickly enough so that it doesn’t come out of the aeration holes, but slowly enough that it doesn’t overflow out the top. Practice a bit with water until you get the hang of it. I see on Vinturi website they now offer a separate aerator for white wines and one for spirits. I’m not sure about spirits, but using the same aerator for both red and white is absolutely fine. 

There are aerators that fit in the neck of the wine bottle. I have not tried this type, and while I am sure they are easer to use, the amount of aeration will likely be less. I would classify these as better than not using an aerator, but would suggest something like the Vinturi.

Gadget #3 Breathers.  I have seen these gadgets being promoted at some wine events, but have never tried one. The idea is to add air bubbles to the wine either by a hand pump, or through a battery powered pump like the one pictured below. I have not personally used one of these, but I don't believe they would be effective, as very little of the wine would be impacted by the bubbles.  I may be wrong - so let me know if you've had a good (or bad) experience with one of these gadgets!

Gadget #4 The Wine Whisk. I do not have one of these, but I really do need to get one and at our next restaurant outing, surprise my wife by whipping this bad boy out and giving my wine a good whisking!!! If you want a whisk - you can get one here
Right Wine Glasses Can Help

Good wine glasses do actually make a difference in helping to achieve aeration. Lead Crystal glasses have a microscopic texture (wow - didn’t I say I would go easy on the wine geek stuff and I’m already talking about the microscopic textures of wine glasses - oops!!!) that help to aerate the wine as you swirl. Wine glasses that are truly made out of glass do not have this feature. In future posts I will talk more about wine glasses and other benefits of crystal, but for now I’ll just say that crystal is better for enjoying your wine, but you definitely don’t have to buy the most expensive glasses to realize the benefits.

Temperature Matters

In an upcoming post I plan to talk more about temperature’s impact on wine (drinking and storage), but since we are trying to open up our wine and get the aromas released, it is important to note that temperature does matter.  The colder a wine is the more muted the aromas will be. Wine that you keep in your regular food refrigerator will be too cold to release much in the way of aromas.  If you have a glass of wine that feels very cold, the good news is that you possess an effective wine warming gadget already - your hands. Just hold the glass in your hands, and your 98.6 degrees will start helping your wine show all it has to show - aroma-wise anyway!

Bottom Line

Aeration will help most all types of wines, however you achieve it - by getting your swirl on or by using one of the myriad of aeration gadgets. If your are ordering a red in a restaurant (especially something “big” like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or a Red Zinfandel), don’t be afraid to ask your server to decant it - just remember this is one of the ways you get the most out of your wine purchase. Also, most restaurants that have wine decanters will bring them to your table. You can watch the technique of the person serving you wine to pick up some pointers for decanting at home.

Just remember - Enjoy that wine and keep swirling.

- Wino4 Life

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