A lot of people wonder if there is an optimum period to let a wine breathe before drinking it. I’ve had this discussion with a lot of my wine loving friends. Letting a wine “breathe” means aerating it. You could simply pour the wine in a funky-looking decanter for a while or you could use an aerator. Here is a great blog from Wine Folly on how to choose a decanter.
However, the question of how long to let a wine breathe is still a question I am often asked. The answer depends a lot on the wine itself.
Generally, white wines do not need to breathe. Some premium Burgundies, white Rhône wines, let’s say a Condrieu, or a premium Vouvray from the Loire Valley, might benefit from a little oxygenation to open them up a little. You don’t need to do anything as drastic as decanting in this case. What you can do is open the bottle and pour just a little bit of the wine into a glass to make a bit more room in the bottle (maybe an ounce or two). Then put the cork back in and then turn the bottle upside down a couple of times to let the air mix in with the wine. Leave the wine for a few minutes, then you can pour a beautiful glass of wine. For most other white wines, no breathing is required before serving.
In the case of red wines, the answer is a little more complex.
Young red wines that are high in tannins – such as Cabernet Sauvignon, most red Zinfandels, Bordeaux and some wines from Tuscany – will benefit from aeration. It helps soften the tannins, allowing the aromas and flavours to be more fully expressed.
Depending on tannin levels, there are different methods that can be employed. For wines like those mentioned above, probably the most effective way to aerate the wine is to pour the wine into a decanter allowing for air to mix with the wine. The positive effect on the wine will start to appear after about 25 to 30 minutes. Intensely tannic, or younger reds may need up to a few hours for the wine to soften enough to enjoy. However, a more vigorous method, called double decanting, could shorten this time frame. Watch the following video for a demonstration of this method.
If the wine is a bit older, let’s say between eight and 20 years, less exposure to air is required. The half hour time mentioned above should be more than enough. In many cases, pouring the wine into a large glass and swirling it for several seconds will do the trick.
If the wine is older than 20 years, too much exposure to air or too rigorous decanting may damage the wine. In these cases, one would still want to decant to reduce the amount of sediment that may be present in the well-aged wine. After letting the bottle stand for several hours to allow sediment to fall to the bottom, you would open it and decant it very gently just before serving, leaving a little bit of wine in the neck once you start seeing the sediment. Serve this wine right away to enjoy it at its best.
For less tannic wines, like Merlot, Pinot Noir, Beaujolais and Shiraz, much less aeration is required and simply pouring the wine into a glass and swirling will be enough. You could also use an aerator that fits into the neck of the bottle, or one that sits in the glass. Pouring the wine through one of these aerators will soften these wines just a bit.
Of course, your personal taste preferences are the most important thing to keep in mind. Expert advice is great, but in the end, it comes down to what you like to drink, and how you like to drink it. Keeping this in mind, I suggest trying a little sip from the bottle to determine for yourself what level of aeration YOU think the wine needs to meet your taste preferences. Then all you need to do is…enjoy!
At Carl Knows Wine, I provide wine education and consultation services to individuals, local businesses and small restaurants and I do it using a personalized and enthusiastic approach. Interested in learning more about the world of wine? Have a question you’d like me answer in an upcoming blog? E-mail me here. Make sure to subscribe to my website or follow me and like my Facebook Page and Facebook Group, and my Instragram page.