wine need to breathe

Don’t breathe a word

I am often asked the question: Do red wines need to breathe?

The answer is not as straight forward as you might imagine.

YES they do…

But usually only if they are fine and rare red wines.

Things like Barolo, Bordeaux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Amarone della Valpolicella tend to benefit from air. These wines have layers of complexity that take time to develop, and oxygen helps this process along. From the moment you first pour a glass to a few hours later the wine can completely transformed in the glass.

These wines are often very structured too and allowing them to breathe a bit helps to soften them, and round off any harsh edges.

Most wines you buy in a supermarket won’t need to breathe as they are too young and lacking in complexity to gain much from getting some air. My general rule of thumb would be with anything sub £12 you don’t need to bother – anything over that might benefit (but doesn’t necessarily need) some air. 

Sometimes wines under screw cap can benefit from being left to breathe too though. These wines can often smell a bit funky on first opening (think boiled cabbage, rotten eggs). This is down to the levels of sulphur in the wine – too much and the wine would be considered faulty – but in most cases just swirling the wine around the glass a little bit, and getting some oxygen to the wine, is enough to get rid of this smell leaving you with a perfectly drinkable wine.  

If you have got a bottle of wine that you think would benefit from oxygen then how do you air your wine?

Just pulling the cork out of the bottle and leaving it on the side is not enough. If you imagine how much of that bottle is in contact with oxygen it is no more than the narrow neck of the bottle.

It’s not difficult to air a wine properly though, in fact the process of simply pouring a glass will give it some oxygen. You can pour it into a decanter (or even a glass) and leave it for a while et voila, your wine has been able to breathe. You can pick up a decanter for less than a tenner, but if you don’t have one then even a jug will do. If you fancy splashing out on a piece of art that doubles as a decanter then Riedel (the wine glass people) are your best bet. 

There are some more unusual ways of airing your wine, such as putting it through a blender… But I’ll be sticking with the tried and tested method. 

6 thoughts on “Don’t breathe a word

  1. Grrrr can’t upload photo but promise – Bambi Friday a la Dauphinoise with Catena Alta – decanted. All smelling amaze-balls so far! $15 for the steaks bit more for the wine!

  2. Wow – Catena Alta Malbec developed amazingly in the glass. Started with sweet xmas spices, darl fruit jam and oak with mouth drying tanins into soft tanin with dark chocolate and a bit of smoke (basic palate) with a prune background. On this basis I would definitely drink anything Julia recommended. Terrific bottle of wine (and the venison / dauphinoise was a great compliment). JB I bow to thee

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