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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Aerators are sold to infuse air into wine after opening a bottle. But pumps are sold to create a vacuum and remove the air from an opened bottle of wine. It’s confusing about what the objective should be—add air, or remove it? Can you help me understand?

—Mark M., Nipomo, Calif.

Dear Mark,

You're right that the relationship between wine and air can be confusing, or at the very least, complicated. I’m going to focus on finished wine to answer you, but if you want to read up on some of the various ways winemakers try to control oxygen exposure, you can read about reductive and oxidative winemaking techniques.

Whether or not oxygen is desirable to a wine depends on timing. After you open a bottle to drink it, aeration, or exposure to oxygen, can help help a wine become more expressive. That’s why we swirl our wineglasses and sometimes use a decanter. How much oxygen will help depends on the wine. Young, robust wines can take more aeration than older, more delicate wines before they start to fade.

But when you’re trying to preserve a wine, you want to avoid oxygen. That means that if you can’t finish a bottle that you’ll want to return to later, you need to find a way to eliminate the oxygen to give the wine some more life. Otherwise a wine’s flavors can flatten, and fruity notes will be replaced by nutty, tired notes. Know how fruits and vegetables turn brown after they are cut? That’s a visual representation of what can happen to a wine after hours or days.

—Dr. Vinny

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