To breathe or not to breathe; that is the question. Of course, we’re talking about wine here. And more importantly, how do we let our wine breathe? Is it necessary? Will it improve my experience?
Let’s take a look.
What it means
When we talk about letting our wine breathe, it means that we are going to expose the wine to oxygen by allowing it to aerate before drinking. There is always some debate in the industry about whether or not this step is necessary, but aerating some wines is broadly considered to release more of the wine’s aromas and soften the tannins.
Will you taste a difference?
It really depends on the wine.
Once a bottle of wine is opened, its characteristics start to change. The decanting process accelerates these changes, more quickly releasing the wine’s aromas from the natural fruit and oak. Decanting can also soften the taste of the tannins that can cause harshness and astringency in young wines.
What types of wine should be aerated?
As with all things wine, personal taste plays a big role in deciding which wines should be aerated. There is no absolute right or wrong answer.
One general rule of thumb though is that young, full-bodied reds, in particular, will benefit from aerating. As mentioned above, aerating will help to soften the tannins and release the natural fruit flavors.
On the other hand, if you have a fragile wine, like an old vintage, aerating can be risky. Fragile wines are much more sensitive once opened and may lose their fruit aromas more quickly.
How do you let wine breathe?
There are several ways to aerate wine, and it doesn’t require any fancy kitchen gadgets (though it’s fine to use those, too!).
- A wine decanter is a vessel, usually made of glass, that is used to serve wine. The process of decanting wine is simply pouring the wine from the bottle into the decanter.
- In The Glass
- Swirling the wine in your glass. This can, in some cases, have the same effects as decanting.
- Using an Aerating Device
- These little devices bubble air through wine as it pours, thus creating a speed-decanter.
Decanter vs. aerator cheat sheet
Aerator: Use on young wines, particularly big, bold, and tannic reds.
Decanter: Use on older wines and more delicate bottles.
Both: For young wines that need as much oxygen as they can get, double up and aerate the wine right into the decanter.
For optimal effect, a wide-bottomed decanter that gives maximum air exposure to the wine is your best bet. However, if you are decanting specifically to remove sediment, use a decanter with a narrow shape.
Sediment in Wine
Sediment is a byproduct of winemaking that usually settles to the bottom of your glass. It forms during the fermentation process or while a wine matures in a bottle. Sediment is completely natural and not harmful – it’s mostly made up of bits of seeds, grape skin, and crystal-like tartrates.
If sediment is expected, you can hold a candle to the bottle during decanting to help you see through the glass as you pour. This will give you more control over the pour, and help you to not disturb the sentiment.
Too much oxygen
Yes, you can over-aerate. No matter where a wine comes from, or how old it is, it is possible to overexpose it to oxygen. Keep in mind Pasteur’s experiments and don’t leave your wine out of the bottle for days.
Too little oxygen
Don’t assume that just leaving an open bottle on the counter is enough to aerate it – it’s not. A wine bottle is way too narrow to allow enough oxygen in.
As in all things wine, personal taste should rule your decision on whether or not to decant your wine. Try different methods with different wines to see what you like and what you could skip. Be careful with older vintages, and don’t let any wine sit out for too long. Wine is for enjoying, and no one wants to wait too long for that first sip.