Wine Wednesday’s Terminology: Breathe

A few weeks ago I did a post about a sommelier’s tool called a Tastevin and promised to do posts on Wednesdays about a wine-related item or wine terminology.  Thankfully I didn’t promise to do this EVERY Wednesday (even though that was my intent).  So I have missed a few weeks, but hopefully I am back on track.

This Wine Wednesday we are talking about letting your wine breathe.  (I actually was going to do an article about wine legs, but the research I pulled up was so extensive I was overwhelmed.  A person could write a whole book about wine legs – and there’s just not enough room here to do that!)  😉

A while back I did a post called The Lighter Side of Wine Looking back at that article now, I realize I didn’t discuss letting your wine breathe.  This is an expression we have all heard.  Hopefully we can answer some of your questions here about letting wine breathe and keep it light and easy.   What does it mean to let your wine breathe?  Which wines need to breathe?  How do you let wine breathe?  Why do you let a wine breathe?  How long does the wine need to breathe?

A little music to set the mood:  Anna Nalick, Just Breathe

What does it mean to let wine breathe?  A wine starts to breathe the minute it is opened; however, simply opening the wine and letting it sit in the open bottle will not do much to help the wine breathe (sometimes referred to as aerating).  For a wine to breathe, you have to expose more surface area of the wine to oxygen.  You can do this by using a decanter.  Try it for yourself.  Pour half the bottle into a decanter.  Taste a sip or two of your wine poured from the bottle and then taste some poured from the decanter.  Even if you thought the wine was good from the bottle, you will be able to tell a significant difference from the decanter.   This is all because the wine was exposed to oxygen.  You can accomplish a similar effect by using an aerator to infuse oxygen into the wine as it is poured.


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Which wines need to breathe?  You can let any wine breathe, but young, tannic red wines, like Cabs, need to breathe.  One might think that you should let older wines breathe as well.  Typically you decant older wines but mostly just to keep the sediment out of the glass.  Once you have decanted a wine that has reached its peak maturity, you should serve it quickly to take full advantage of the aromatics and not let it breathe too long.

How do you let a wine breathe?  You have a few options to let wine breathe:  (1) As mentioned above, you can decant the wine, (2) you can aerate the wine as you pour it into the glass, or (3) You can simply pour it into your glass and let it sit for several minutes before drinking.

Why do you let a wine breathe?  I mentioned above that you should let young, tannic wines breathe.  The reason you do this is to soften the tannins.  The wine mellows and both the flavors and aromatics become more pronounced.

How long should you let a wine breathe?  There is no tried and true answer to this one.   If the wine suits your taste as soon as it is decanted, drink up.  If it is still too tannic for you, let it sit a while, maybe even a couple of hours.  The reality is (just like wines you prefer), your personal preference determines how long your wine should breathe.

Happy Wine Wednesday, All!  If there is a wine-related item or terminology you want more info on, just let me know.


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