Difference Between Wine Decanters & Aerators (with Benefits)


Bringing a great wine to the peak of aroma and flavor before serving can heighten the experience for everyone eagerly awaiting their first sip. Both wine decanters and wine aerators are common tools used to enhance wine but many wine drinkers are unaware of what they are and how they are different. What is the difference between a wine decanter and an aerator?

Wine decanters are vessels used to hold wine as a means for filtering out sediment before drinking and wine aerators are devices that filter air into wine more quickly to help release more aromas and flavors from the wine. 

Wine decanters and aerators are two tools used with wine. Although some people use the terms interchangeably, they serve very distinct purposes. 

After reading this article, you will have a full understanding of the differences, benefits, and importance of each of these tools when it comes to serving and enjoying wine. You will also learn about some of the best decanters and aerators on the market.

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Difference between Decanting and Aerating

While both aerating and decanting help you arrive at similar results, they are both different processes.  

  • When you decant wine, you pour the contents from the bottle it into a different vessel for serving, and are allowing air into the wine over time.
  • An aerator is a separate device which wine passes through as it is being served.  Passing through the aerator introduces air into the wine quickly. 

What is a Decanter? 

A wine decanter can be used with both red and white wines.  It is a glass vessel which comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The purpose of the decanter is to let sediment to filter out of the wine before serving.  By filtering out sediment that may develop in wine that has aged, you can get a clear glass of wine when it is served.  

Are There Specific Decanters for Red and White Wine?

You may be wondering if there are specific decanters for both red and white wine.  The good news is you can use the same decanter for both red and white wine.  However, many people choose to have one for each style.

The Benefits of Decanting Wine

The process of decanting is quite simple. There are other benefits to decanting beyond filtering out sediment. The act of pouring wine from a bottle into decanting vessel another may seem redundant. However, a decanting bottle of wine can completely change your wine tasting experience.

Rémy Charest, a contributor to Seven Fifty Daily, explains the benefits and science behind decanting, in his article The Science Behind Wine Decanting:

  • It allows the wine to breathe.
  • The alcohol level drops.
  • The wine softens.

The wine breathes. Charest explains that after the wine has been trapped in the bottle for an extended time, its taste and feel are affected.  Decanting circulates through the wine which creates a chemical reaction allowing aromas and flavors to open up.

The alcohol level drops: When wine is poured into a decanter, there is a greater level of evaporation thanks to higher air exposure. When evaporation occurs, the alcohol level drops slightly, which influences the taste of the wine.

The wine softens:  As the wine mixes with air, volatile compounds within the wine react to the oxygen, creating a softer mouthfeel.

What are Tannins?

According to an article from Wine Folly, tannins are responsible for adding bitterness to the wine.  The highest concentrations of tannins are found in grape skins and seeds. This is why red wines, which are macerated and fermented on their skins are more tannic than white wines.

Aging wine in barrels can impart additional tannins from the wood. The appearance: One main reason people choose to decant wine is to give a “beautiful” pour.

Many older red wines can contain sediment. Careful decanting ensures the sediment won’t mix with the wine when poured and will give it a clean clear appearance in the glass.

Can All Wine be Decanted?

There are many benefits to decanting wine, but you may be wondering if all wine can be decanted.  The answer is no.  Not all wine needs to be decanted; in fact, there are some that shouldn’t be. You should  be cautious when decanting older wine. Certain older wines that may be more delicate and shouldn’t be decanted.

Otherwise, you risk losing the more subtle nuances.  If you are going to decant an older vintage, don’t leave it longer than 30 minutes. Decanting for an extended period can lead to oxidation, which will adversely impact the flavor of the wine.

Is Decanting Necessary?

You can see there are many benefits to decanting wine, but it isn’t necessary to enjoy your bottle of wine. However, it can be especially beneficial for younger tannic wines, allowing them to open up more quickly.

Types of Decanters

You will find three sizes of decanters along with many aesthetic options. The three typical sizes are small, medium, and large.  Each is meant to be used with specific types of wine. 

Small: Small decanters are ideal for light-bodied, red, rosé, and white wines.  They have a relatively narrow base and are used with wines which have sediment.

Medium:  Medium decanters are best used with medium-bodied red wines.  The base and mouth of the decanter are a bit wider, which increases aeration.

Large: Use large decanters for full-bodied wines.  The overall broader size allows proper aeration before serving.

Great Decanters (Best Ones)

This list includes a variety of decanters that are highly rated and frequently purchased. When purchasing a decanter, you can plan to spend $15 – $600.  The more expensive decanters are typically made with crystal.  

What is an Aerator?

Aerators come in several forms. Some are attachments you can put onto a decanter or wine bottle, while others are stand-alone components you pour wine through. No matter which design you choose, the premise is the same.  As it’s poured, wine passes through the aerator. Air mixes with the wine, releasing flavors and aromas more quickly than if the wine were to just sit in your glass.

For a complete guide to wine aerators and why I think you really should consider them, please check out this helpful article I wrote.

Do All Wines Need to be Aerated?

Not all wines need to be aerated. Usually, red wines need aeration, however, some white wines can benefit from the process as well.

The Benefits of Aerating Wine

Before you aerate a wine, it is vital to understand how both the wine, and you, the consumer, will benefit from the process.

  • Aerating quickly introduces a large amount of oxygen into the wine
  • Alters the aroma of the wine.

Introduces a large amount of oxidation:  Wine may be in the bottle for a long time before it’s opened. By using an aerator, you can introduce oxygen to the wine rapidly as it is being served, releasing aroma and flavor compounds in the wine and allowing you to experience the subtleties of a wine without having to let it sit and breathe in a decanter for an extended period.

Alters the aroma of the wine:  Wine aromas are significantly altered by aeration, so much so that even wine drinking novices can notice the difference. 

Is Aerating Necessary?

Aerating your wine is a matter of personal preference. If you choose not to, you will still be able to enjoy the taste. However, taking the extra step to aerate your wine may make it more enjoyable.

Types of Aerators

There are several different types of aerators in a variety of price ranges.  When choosing an aerator, look for one that serves both your purpose and budget. Some decanters have aerators built into the mouth of the bottle, while others are units that can be placed into a wine bottle.

Here are the common types of aerators you will find:

  • Bottle stopper
  • Decanter
  • Handheld

Bottle Stopper: This is a basic aerator that can aerate the wine as well as act a seal for the bottle. There are no fancy parts to this type of aerator, and it is quite versatile.

Decanter: Some decanters come equipped with an aerator built into the mouth of the decanter.  This is a handy way to decant and aerate the wine with one device.  This is especially helpful if you want the style of a decanter on the table but the rapid aeration of the wine for serving. It’s best used for younger wines – you never want to use an aerator on an older vintage.

Handheld:  Some aerators are separate components that don’t attach to the decanter or the bottle. Simply hold the aerator over the top of the glass and pour the wine through it.

Great Aerators (Best Ones)

When it comes to choosing an aerator, you need to factor in the amount you want to spend, as well as how frequently you plan to use the aerator.  You can be prepared to spend $5 – $100.  The more expensive aerators are often equipped with a battery to help the aeration. 

Here are some of the top-rated aerators on the market:

To learn if you should use aerators for white wine and what you need to consider, please check out this helpful article I wrote.

Things to Think About:

If you’re searching for something that will last you for years, you’ll want to do some research before you buy. Keep the following things in mind when shopping for an aerator or decanter:

  1. Material
  2. Size
  3. Ability to clean

Material: Most decanters are made from glass or crystal. Glass is the most economical route.  However, if you are looking for a piece that you can display or use for elegant gatherings and special occasions, you may want to spend the extra money on the crystal. 

Aerators come in several different materials, such as glass, plastic, and stainless steel.  The aerator’s material won’t impact the taste of the wine. The main factor you need to consider is durability. Stainless steel and plastic have a longer lifespan than glass versions.

Size: As you know, decanters come in a variety of sizes, as do aerators.  Decanters typically hold one bottle of wine. However, some can hold as little as one glass or more than one bottle.  

Aerators also come in more than one size.  When choosing an aerator, you need to make sure it is functional for your needs.

Ability to Clean: Whenever you purchase any household item, you should factor in your ability to clean the item. Decanters and aerators are no different. Aerators and decanters must be properly cleaned to eliminate possible bacteria, which may not only cause you harm but will also affect the taste of your wine.

  • Aerator Cleaning: When cleaning an aerator, it is best to place it under warm running water.  You may need to wash it with a small cleaning brush. Failing to correctly clean your aerator will make it less effective at aerating.
  • Decanter Cleaning: Decanter cleaning can be more difficult because of the various shapes and sizes of the vessels.  There are specific tools to help you properly clean your decanter.  While a bottle brush may be the best for full mouth decanters, you’ll need to pay extra attention with the nooks and crannies found in more intricate decanters.  

One of the most common methods of cleaning wine decanters is to use metal beads.  The beads are put into the decanter and swirled around the bottom to remove sediment and residue.

To learn if you should use a dishwasher to clean a decanter and how I would recommend doing so, please check out this article before you damage your decanter.

Are Lead Crystal Decanters Safe?

Many people have concerns when it comes to lead and the health threats it causes. These feelings extend to lead crystal decanters.  While lovely to look at, it is vital to know the best way to utilize them for your wine. 

Dr. Joe Schwarcz explains the nuances related to lead crystal decanters in his article Alcohol Should Not be Stored in Lead Crystal Decanters. He explains that while it is perfectly safe to serve wine from a lead decanter for the amount of time it takes to eat a meal, it is not advised to store the wine for long periods. 

If wine is stored in lead crystal for any length of time beyond a typical meal, there is a high risk of lead particles leaching out of the decanter into the wine.  While this process may take months, it is best not to take the risk.

Final Thoughts

While wine decanters and aerators are not a necessary part of enjoying wine, they can enhance your wine drinking experience.  When purchasing either of these items, it is essential to bear in mind the type of wine you drink most often. Your preferred style of wine will play a role in deciding which size of decanter you should buy.  When considering aerators, you want to look for something easy to use and clean, so it will last you for many years to come.

Decanters and aerators may be optional items, but drinking wine is an experience. If you want to get the most out of a bottle of wine, then using these items is an excellent idea!

This article was reviewed for accuracy by Camille Berry. Camille Berry is a wine and food writer based in the UK. After studying English and Politics at New York University, she embarked on a career as a sommelier. During her time as a sommelier, Camille helped create dynamic wine lists, spoke on discussion panels, and worked as a wine educator. She is a Certified Sommelier, Certified Specialist of Wine, and has passed the WSET Advanced with Merit.

Carl Walton

Owner & primary writer on PinotSquirrel.com. It is my goal to bring you the most useful and actionable guidance about wine storage there is online. I consult with industry experts to bring you only what you need to know.

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