Do I Need to Let the Wine Breathe?

Question from James: Do I need to let the wine breathe before I drink it? It’s one of those things you hear all the time, but you’re not really sure what to do.  

Reply: Thanks for writing, James. Yes, this is a common question, and giving the wine some air is a great idea.

I’ve noticed that the wines that benefit the most from getting some air are young reds. They kind of resemble tight rose buds – they can be very tightly wound. When the bud is all closed up it doesn’t have much fragrance. But after it opens up, the lovely scent is released.

For a lot of people, letting the wine breathe is a matter of pulling the cork early (or unscrewing these days!). There’s not a lot of point in that. That skinny little bottle neck isn’t going to allow for much air exchange. So, once you’ve pulled that cork you need to go an extra step to get any good out of it.

There are a few different things you can do. The easiest thing to do is to pour it into a decanter or a pitcher an hour or so before you plan to serve it. If it’s a young wine you can splash it around quite a bit and it will thank you for it! 

Say you forgot to do that and your guests are arriving? If the table’s all set, go ahead and pour the wine into their glasses sitting there on the table. That little bit of wine will open up quickly while you’re having hors d’oeuvres on the patio.

To aerate the wine in the glass, give it a good swirl for a few seconds. This will amuse your friends and, at the same time, release the aromatic constituents in the wine as vapor. Up comes that beautiful fragrance! 

The wines that don’t want to breathe are old wines and sparkling wines. Too much air for that old red can push it right over the hill. Too much air for the bubbly and the bubbles go away.

Something to think about: Sometimes I don’t decant the wine, even though I think it might benefit. Why? Because I enjoy watching it open up over a few hour’s time. It’s interesting that most of these wine-ratings publications score the wines after one, relatively brief tasting. To revisit the same wine over a period of hours is too time consuming, although that’s my preference when I’m writing Winemaker Notes for clients. The wine may not be showing its true colors with a “hit and run” tasting but I suppose it’s pretty true to the way most people experience their wine. How many of us linger over it for hours? 

So, the moral of the story is if you want to let the wine breathe, get it out of the bottle into a decanter or a glass.

I hope that helps!

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