It’s something that’s been written about time and again in these lines, but I’ve discovered some new tools that I think bear further exploration.
First off, aeration or oxygenation benefits many wines, and, in my opinion, ESPECIALLY those that are less expensive. While price isn’t always indicative of quality, it frequently is, and the better the wine, generally the better balanced it is. Consequently, it’s more harmonious and is less in need of lengthy or extreme aeration to smooth out rough edges, because they’re not there in the first place.
But with wines that are a little harsh, aeration can help — a lot. And I’ve heard many people say that what they like in a wine is softness, a delicacy, something that doesn’t aggressively attack their palates, but rather cascades gently across them, stimulating the taste buds in a positive, not negative, manner.
What aeration does is expose the wine to oxygen. While over time, continued exposure to oxygen makes wine go bad — if you open a bottle today and re-cork the remnants (without the use of a wine-bottle vacuum), they won’t taste nearly as good the next day, and are likely to completely be off a few days later. But the key here is how much time has elapsed. The Globe and Mail’s wine columnist, Beppi Crosariol, outlined the intricacies in an article written in September of 2007.
"Oxygen's influence on wine is well known," Crosariol wrote. "Once exposed, the wine behaves like any other fruit stripped of its protective skin. Eventually, it bruises like a sliced apple, but along the way its flavour evolves in sometimes wondrous ways. Aerating most wines is almost like adding salt to soup or tenderizing a tough cut of meat."
What a great analogy! And manufacturers have spent a good deal of time trying to make products that speed up the aeration process. While you can pour wine from a foot above the glass (hitting said glass, however, poses a challenge for me and I’m presuming for most of us!), decant it (and it’s the pouring that makes the difference when using a decanter, because that exposes more wine to more oxygen), or even just dump it into a bowl, the latter two can seem inconvenient to some, as the wine should still sit for a while (not to mention that getting the wine from a bowl into a pourable container without spilling any is a bit of an exercise as well). And the extra problem with these solutions? They take TIME. So if you’re like me, you don’t want to wait for wine. You want it NOW! Hence the companies that have tried to make aeration faster and easier.
The Eisch brand glasses seem to have magical powers that aerate wine in two to four minutes to the same degree it would take at least an hour to do in a decanter. However, they’re expensive (about $35 per glass) and unfortunately, the stems break easily. And while I’m still a major advocate of these glasses, there are some far less expensive alternatives out there.
A person doesn’t need to spend a fortune in order to aerate in a time-efficient manner. Besides the Eisch glasses, there are several devices on the market that do the job, if not quite as well, then pretty darn close.
This past festive season, the folks from Mission Hill included with certain wines in select stores (none in Brandon, sadly) an inexpensive aerator that’s easily portable, which is always an extra advantage. I was given one for a trial run, and I was curious to see if and how this "value-added" bonus gift — a freebie — held up to some of the others out there. (And I’ve seen ones that are VERY similar to these sell for $30 in boutique wine stores.)
So I set up a line of glasses — one of them an Eisch glass, the other two just ordinary wineglasses. But so the thin stem didn’t give it away, I put wine in the Eisch glass for the requisite four minutes, then transferred it to a glass identical to the others in my line.
Then I poured wine through a device called the Vinturi, which I’ve found for between $25 and $35 depending on where you buy it (Winners had the $25 ones, but you had to buy a pack of two for $50 — clever marketing/packaging indeed).
Finally, I used the Mission Hill aerator, filling the third glass to the same level as the other two. Then I left the kitchen, asking my husband (he frequently groans and rolls his eyes when I ask him to facilitate these blind tests for me, but other than that, he does it willingly and frequently, which I really appreciate) to bring me each glass independently, and to keep track of the order in which he presented them to me.
The results surprised me in some ways and not in others. I ran this experiment on two separate weekends with a different wine each time. Since aeration seems to have the most noticeable effect on red wines, I used reds for my testing. And while space decrees that you’ll have to wait until next week to find out the results, in the meantime, I have two other reds to recommend.
The first is the 19 Crimes Shiraz Durif (pronounced dur-RIFF) from Australia, a gutsy, deep, dark, and delicious blend of these two varietals that go so well together. The 19 Crimes (which oddly enough, sells for $19!) smells like licorice, black fruit and vanilla and has a structure solid enough to support this intensely flavoured beverage. This is one of those wines the quality of which likely be diminished by aeration, as would the stellar Post House Penny Black from South Africa. Another blend, this time of shiraz, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, petite verdot, and chenin blanc, it, too, is inky black in colour, and smells spicy, with notes of white pepper and uncooked animal flesh (I can’t explain it, but it’s there). An amazing wine, very much to my taste, that sells for $23.40, I had a most interesting experience with this wine recently, which will also be recounted in an upcoming column.