Last Saturday, my dear friend Bill Burns and I were laughing about our suggested parameters regarding how long to let a wine “breathe”. It is, however, a serious question that comes up often from our guests.
“Breathing” is wine lingo for aeration, which is the process of allowing the wine to be in contact with oxygen for a period of time between when it was opened and when it is consumed.
Breathing applies mainly to full-bodied, complex red wines. While simple reds and whites might benefit from some aeration, the effects are nowhere near as pronounced. Later, we’ll take breathing a step further and discuss decanting.
When a freshly opened bottle of red wine is in contact with oxygen, the tannins (the astringency on the back of our palate) soften and become less aggressive. This allows the fruit flavors to open up on our front to mid-palate, and also releases the esters (aromatics) that give wine its wonderful aroma. The wine becomes a flower blooming in the glass.
It’s easy, however, to make the mistake of pulling the cork from the bottle and setting it on the counter to breathe. Let’s be realistic. The amount of oxygen in contact with the wine through the narrow neck of the bottle is negligible, and so is its impact.
A better plan is to pour some wine in our glass, thus increasing the surface area that’s exposed to air in both the glass and bottle. This also allows us to sip on the wine and see how it evolves over time.
So, how long should we let a wine breathe? It depends on the wine, but 45 minutes to an hour works pretty well. Young, tannic wines benefit the most from aeration. For example, a full-bodied Cabernet will require more patience than a soft Pinot Noir.
Personally, I’ve done years of extensive and intensive research on how long to let a big red wine breathe. My best rule of thumb, with 30 years experience, is about two (maybe three) ice cold Lone Stars.
Next week, we will continue this and talk about decanting. See you all then…