Allowing your wine to breathe is fundamental, but it’s often overlooked in the wine pouring process. Letting your wine mix and mingle with the air for a particular period of time allows it to oxidize, which helps soften the flavors, release aromas and bring out more of its flavor characteristics. Ultimately, it makes the wine more pleasant on the palate.
Red wines typically stand to improve more from breathing. However, some white wines can see positive effects, too. It’s all up to three things: the type, the age and the region. For example, a young red wine with high tannin levels, like a Cabernet Sauvignon, or wines from Rhône Valley can take upwards of an hour before becoming properly aerated and ready for serving. Some white wines on the other hand only require 20 minutes. It can be very confusing, but a good rule of thumb to help you find that sweet spot is the more tannins, the more time it needs to aerate. How to aerate, on the other hand, is whole other story.
Some will say you can simply pop the cork and let it breathe in the bottle – this is incorrect. For one, you should never “pop” the cork; it’s not a bottle of champagne. You gently and methodically remove the cork from the bottle. From there, you have some options: using a decanter or wine glass. Using a decanter increases the surface area surrounding the wine, which allows for faster aeration. The other option is simply pouring it into several wine glasses and letting it aerate in situ (Latin for “in position”). Just make sure that when you fill the glasses, you pour directly into the center with a good fall to accelerate the aeration process. This is obviously the easiest method and the cleanest. Nobody wants to wash extra dishes after getting a few glasses deep.
It’s pretty interesting how one can see, or rather, taste how a bottle changes. Much like those enjoying it, with time (and with each glass) the wine becomes a little freer, a little looser. The key is to not let it get a little too loose.
So, next time you begin to uncork and unwind, remember the key to a great glass of wine is a little air and a little time.