How Does a Red Wine "Breathe" or "Open Up"?
You may have heard that red wine needs to “breathe”. Or maybe you heard someone referring to a wine as being closed and needing to open up. But what exactly does this mean?
Allowing wine to breathe is the simple process of exposing a red wine to air over a period of time. Doing this allows the flavours and aromas to achieve their full potential through a chemical reaction that takes place when the wine is in contact with oxygen.
This is especially important if the wine has a bit of age to it. As you can imagine, older wines have been crammed up inside a bottle for quite some time—possibly even multiple decades. These wines have lost their edge and are quite slow to open up their full flavours, so you need to allow a good amount of time for them to breathe.
It’s not just old fine wines that need to breathe, though. Young wines, even cheaper wines, gain a lot by breathing. A youthful wine often has more acidity and tannins, which can sometimes be a little harsh. Allowing these wines to breathe will help round off the harshness and balance the flavours.
How and how long?
Using a decanter is the most efficient way to open up a red wine such as a Shiraz or Syrah. The process is quite simple. All you have to do is pour the full contents of the bottle (excluding any sediment for older wines) into the decanter, which is a large, open container designed to expose the wine to air.
You then want to set it aside for at least 30mins—even longer for an older wine—and then pour the wine into your glass and enjoy.
Sometimes, however, you don’t have the luxury of a decanter on hand; the best thing to do in this case is to pour the wine into your glass and let it sit. Sometimes people like to swirl their red wines in the glass. This process can help a little by allowing more surface area to come into contact with air.
Simply opening the bottle and letting it sit is not effective, as the only wine that will breath is that in the neck of the bottle.
What if you can't wait?
Well, there are some neat little tools that can help speed up the process. One of these is a red wine aerator. These simple devices help introduce all of your wine to air as your pour it into your glass.
All you do is hold the aerator over your glass and pour your wine through the top, and the tool creates a vortex in which all of the wine has contact with oxygen. This doesn’t mean that the wine will reach its full potential instantly, but it does speed up the process.
Nothing beats a good glass decanter and some time, but luckily, if you don’t have time, there are a few tricks and tools that can help speed up the process.
For a bit of fun next time you have some guests around, grab two bottles of the same red wine and decant one, allowing it to breathe for half an hour, and pour the other straight from the bottle after opening. Taste them both side by side—you may be surprised by just how different the flavours and aromas are.