People have been enjoying wine for at least 6,000 years, and for 99.9% of that time, they didn’t have “aerators” (nor would they have even known what the word meant!). So it’s fair to say the answer to the question, “Is an aerator necessary to enjoy wine?” is No!
But things being what they are, entrepreneurs will always come up with inventions they think can make money, and wine aerators are no exception. I, myself, don’t want or need one; but that’s not to say that I think they don’t work. Over the years — because of the nature of my job — I’ve been contacted by dozens of companies that manufactured a wine aerator of one type or another. Sometimes, these companies sent me a free sample without my asking for it; other times, they asked if I wanted one, and I usually said “No,” because I didn’t. Sometimes, at trade and consumer wine shows, company representatives offered aerators for guests to take. Usually, I’d try one out. But I never kept them.
I don’t remember the particular name of any of the aerators I tried, nor would I recommend a specific one if I could, because I don’t do “free P.R.” I do recall one, from a few years ago, that I experimented with. I had two bottles of a young, rather tannic red wine. I poured one straight out of the bottle, and the other one through the aerator. The one through the aerator did indeed seem a little more mellow. I assumed that was because the aerator did exactly what the word — which derives from the Greek word for “air” — implies: it exposes the wine to a bit more air in the pouring process than it would otherwise get. That air, or more properly, the oxygen in it, subtly changes the wine (in much the same way as decanting does) — softening the tannins.
But does this make the wine “better?” I’m not so sure — it’s all a matter of preference. Besides, something in me is against quirky inventions, or you might call them “interventions,” when it comes to wine. Somebody was once selling a wine glass they called “breathable.” I’m not sure how it worked, or was supposed to work, but in theory, the molecular structure of the glass allowed more air to penetrate into the wine than a regular wine glass. I experimented with that one, too, and while it might indeed have made the wine a little softer, I thought it also made it simpler.
In the end, I like to drink my wine the old-fashioned way: poured into a nice, crystal glass, appropriately sized for a single serving, and maybe decanted first. I don’t need any devices to increase my pleasure. On the other hand, if you want to aerate your wine, be my guest! It won’t do any harm.
Steve Heimoff is one of America’s most respected and well-known wine writers. The former West Coast Editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine and a contributor to Wine Spectator, he has also authored two books on the subject of California wine, including “New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff,” published in the fall of 2007.