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Wine Without Pretense: Adding oxygen to young red wines can boost taste

POSTED: June 4, 2014 1:00 a.m.

“Do aerators really work?” is a question I hear frequently.

And although I am skeptical of new gadgets, I have to answer honestly, “Yes, they do.” At least mine does, as I was reminded recently.

Aerators are doohickeys you plug into the neck of a bottle of wine to expose the wine to more air as you pour it.

Why? Aerating the wine, giving it an extra shot of oxygen, allows more of the flavors and aromas to dance around in the glass. It’s kind of like decanting without the decanter.

And how, pray tell, does this work?

My aerator, a Trudeau product priced at $7, has a long, curved nozzle that’s divided into four separate chambers. When the wine bubbles out of the end, it’s almost frothing with aeration.

I’ve been using this tool for nearly a year and have found it to be almost failure free. It’s best used with young red wines; wines that should age another year in the bottle, but I really want it tonight.

I had the lesson driven home last month.

The wine was a 2012 Malbec from the Mendoza region of Argentina. The name on the label was Kirkland — that’s right, Costco. Costco has the Kirkland name on a number of good-quality, reasonably priced wines, and every one turned out to be a wine I would buy again — until this one.

Malbecs from Mendoza are among my favorite reds. They are medium-bodied with restrained fruit flavors and are dry, great food wines. The Kirkland example, however, was one-dimensional, flat, not impressive. That was without the aerator.

After I had vacuum-sealed the leftover Malbec in its bottle, I hauled out the aerator, which I had simply forgotten previously, and poured another glass. The aerated wine was stunningly different. The fresh fruit flavors were clearly there and the wine actually boasted a more pleasing aroma. I moved the Kirkland Malbec from the “avoid” column to the “buy again” category.

I also recently was able to explain the use of an aerator when I conducted a fundraising wine-tasting party for a wonderful organization that provides educational opportunities to women.

I was talking about aeration and how the contact with oxygen stimulates the young wine when a man in the audience asked a very good question.

“You told us earlier that exposure to air/oxygen can kill a wine,” he said. “Now you say exposing it to air/oxygen is beneficial. Can you explain that?”

The answer is simple. Long-term exposure to the air is harmful to wine. Leave an opened bottle sitting around for a couple of days and you probably will come back to a flat wine from which the fruit flavors have migrated elsewhere. But with the aerator — or the decanting process — short-term exposure to air is, indeed, beneficial. It does not seem to offer much benefit to white wines, but young reds love it. And I think you will, too.

* * *

I’m spectacularly nontechnical. I’ve been known to say, “I can’t even spell PC.”

As a result I stay away from much of the Web-based wine stuff. But last month I learned about a fascinating — it could become addictive — website named wtso.com. That stands for Wine Till Sold Out.

Here’s how it works. This site offers for sale one wine at a time, usually from odd lots. Prices generally are 30 percent to 70 percent reduced from average retail prices. They could have 50 cases in stock, or one case. And once the wine is gone, it’s gone. Then wtso.com moves on the next wine.

The guy who turned me on to wtso.com was in the process of buying a couple of bottles of very good Australian cabernet sauvignon from the Margaret River region. It was marked down 50 percent, from $40 to $20. So I joined in and bought two bottles. With our purchase of four bottles, shipping was free. Nice touch!

Shopping on wtso.com is not for the indecisive. If you find a wine you like, better pull the trigger right away. Ten minutes later it could be gone. And while, as of late May, I have not bought any other wines, I find myself logging on to the site just out of curiosity.

You set up an account, for which there is no charge, and there is no obligation to buy any amount. You simply find something you like and order it. Generally free shipping is offered if you buy four or more bottles, although that number can vary. And customer satisfaction is guaranteed.

OMG, I’m actually hooked on a website. What’s next? Indoor plumbing?

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at murrwine@aol.com. His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.


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