If you’re not a big wine drinker, hearing that wine needs to ‘breathe’ may sound like crazy talk. You just want to pour a glass and enjoy, right? Breathing your wine isn’t just part of fancy wine etiquette, however, it’s actually a key way to get greater taste and enjoyment from your wine. Here’s Louisvale Winery’s easy guide to aerating wine properly- and why it will revolutionise your taste experience.
What is ‘breathing’, anyway?
Breathing wine is a lot easier than it sounds. All you do is leave the bottle (or glass) exposed to the air for some minutes after you open it. The key question, however, is why?
Many things in the world react with oxygen, and our air is, of course, packed with O2. Sometimes this is a bad thing- like when iron oxidises to make rust. Other times, as with wines, it can create a better taste and texture profile. At the end of the day, it’s just a simple chemical reaction- but it’s those subtle shifts that make the experience well worthwhile.
It’s worth noting that it’s mainly red wines that need to breathe. Why? It’s because these are the varieties highest in tannins, which can be very harsh on first opening. That goes double for younger reds. Aerating the wine allows those tannins to mellow and soften, creating a more complex- and tastier- flavour profile.
How long would I breathe my wine for?
If you’re still a little confused, don’t panic! We know that we have previously mentioned wine can also go bad in the air through oxidation, and that’s true too. So how do you know what wines should breathe or be aerated, and for how long? We’ve got the answers you need!
You’ve likely seen people swirl their wine in their glass. This gives it a little boost of air, and sometimes that’s enough. However, there are many vintages that could do with a lot more aeration than that, and should really be allowed to stand for a while. Most young red wines (below 8 years) can be opened an hour to three hours before drinking, but if you leave them in the bottle, there won’t be much aeration because of the narrow neck. The surface area is too small.
Simply decanting an average red wine into a wine decanter or another container, and then pouring it into the glass, will be enough to get it right, however. Mature wines will need 30 minutes or less, as they’ve done a lot of the process while in the bottle.
More ‘fragile’ wines- those over ten years old, or of a very delicate variety- should probably be tasted straight from the bottle. From there you can decide if any aeration is needed at all, which it may not be.
Ideally when decanting a younger wine, it can be done quite vigorously and fast to allow optimal aeration, where older vintages should be handled with care and slowly be poured into the decanter. Decanting older wines will also help prevent sediment going into your wine glass.
Which wines benefit from breathing?
So, the answer is a little like the answer to ‘how long is a piece of string,’ in that it depends very much on the wine, it’s age, and the overall situation. As a rule of thumb, the more mainstream and younger the red wine, the more aeration it can take. Older and more refined vintages will need less, as the idea is to let the ageing process do most of the work before you open it. Fragile wines, and wines that have been laid down for over a decade, will likely not require any aeration at all, but you should give them a try and see when you open them.
If a wine has smelly overtones you dislike, breathing will reduce those. Likewise for a harsh taste, or a taste that reminds you of tea (which also has tannins). So you can also tweak your aeration time for your favourite varieties to suit your own palette and the wine experience you enjoy most.
As with many things related to wine, knowing how long to aerate is a bit of an art. The good news is, you get to taste a lot of great wines along the way! Remember, the highly skilled Louisvale Winery team is always here to help, so if you’d like to chat about any of our reds, feel free to drop us a line.