The two terms are often used interchangeably, but in reality they refer to two distinct actions with two very specific purposes.
Let’s start from the first: why would a wine need to aerate or, more elegantly, “breathe”?
There are two processes that take place when we open the bottle: the evaporation of the most volatile particles and oxidation, that is the chemical reaction that occurs between oxygen and certain components that lead the wine to express its full aromatic potential.
The first thing to do is find out about the wine we have in our hands and try to understand what is the best way to expose it to the air. There are many variables to take into consideration: age, state of conservation, aging potential… Being perfect is practically impossible, but this is also part of the game.
Some wines, especially young reds with excellent aging potential, will benefit from being put in contact with the air quickly and a decanter might be recommended in this case.
Wines of a certain age, on the other hand, could be irreparably damaged if decanted into a decanter: to be able to open they will need slower and more controlled oxygenation. Maybe opening the bottle a few hours before, without the need to go through a large-bottomed decanter.
Opening a Brunello that may have been resting since the 1990s, pouring it immediately into a decanter, would be practically like waking up a person immersed in a deep sleep by throwing a bucket of ice on him! A trauma! And this “trauma” in the wine could lead to a sudden flattening of the wine or the disappearance of some aromas, ruining years of aging.
Let’s talk now instead of the actual decanting. Decanting a wine simply means transferring it to the Decanter, but this practice may not be linked to aeration reasons but has the purpose of separating the wine from sediments.