Do these devices deliver on their promise to improve the flavor of wine? We tested five to find out.
Published July 1, 2009. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 10: An Austrian Supper
When you open a bottle of red wine, you can either wait the standard 10 to 30 minutes for it to “breathe,” or you can use a new device called a wine aerator. Held above a wine glass or inserted into a bottle, these devices are designed to expose the wine to air while you pour, speeding up their interaction, a process that can improve the flavor of wine.
We poured a 2005 Bordeaux through five brands of aerator to see if any could eliminate the bitter taste of young red wine. In a blind tasting, we compared the wine a glass at a time—one poured through an aerator, the other straight from the bottle. Tasters noticed a difference in the wine’s flavor and aroma, but some devices made a bigger difference than others.
What was happening? When wine is exposed to air, it can alter it for the better. The interaction of wine and air makes an impact on highly volatile chemicals such as sulfur compounds, which can produce a harsh taste, and free acetaldehyde, which can confer flatness in wine. Sulfur compounds can be detected at very low levels, in the range of parts per billion, and some of them react with oxygen to become less volatile substances with different odors. (There’s no evidence that aeration changes the level of tannins, which gives wine its astringency, because tannins are not volatile.)
Tasters unanimously agreed that one aerator stood out for markedly improving flavor and aroma, increasing fruitiness, opening up the wine’s bouquet, and smoothing harsh notes. The winner, which looks like a perforated cigarette holder covered in black rubber, disappears into the neck of the bottle, leaving only a stainless steel pouring spout visible. As you pour, air is drawn into the wine through a narrow tube enclosed within. For aerated wine without waiting, this product comes in handy.
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing. We stand behind our winners so much that we even put our seal of approval on them.