Letting Wine Breathe

Letting Wine Breathe

Letting a wine breathe exposes the wine to air, aerating it. This contact with the oxygen in the air makes the flavours more open. Without sufficient exposure to oxygen, wines can taste harsh - but on contact with oxygen the tannins and acids fade, the fruit begins to exert itself and the wine's components become more balanced. However, if the wine is left exposed for too long, you may find the flavours will go flat and dull from excessive oxidation. Very old wines can lose all their flavour if they are exposed to the air for too long.

Most wines do not need to be opened early in order to let the wine breathe. A few fine red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz/Syrah or Nebbiolo may need to breathe for an hour or more, depending on how the wine was made and how mature it is. Wines that are still before their peak when the cork is removed may taste much better after half an hour or more in a glass. However, almost all inexpensive reds, and all white wines, can simply be opened and drunk.

Having said that, most red wines will taste better ten minutes after you pour it into the glass. Simply uncorking the bottle and leaving it to stand will have little or no effect, as only a small surface area is exposed. Pouring off a small amount will help, but decanting will expose the wine to far more air. If you want an instant result with a wine that has just been uncorked, a quick swirl of your glass will work wonders.

If you are sampling a bottle of wine that is 15 or more years old, don't let it breathe for too long before you drink it. Much of its mellowing will have already taken place in the bottle over the years, and it will not develop for much longer than an hour after it has been opened. However, in that hour of development, these wines can change drastically from minute to minute.