How Long Should I Let My Wine Breathe?

As Featured by Wine Enthusiast

BY MARSHALL TILDEN IIIWoman opening bottle of wine next to man in kitchen

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It’s Friday, the end of a long week. You’ve decided to open a bottle to celebrate. Perhaps it’s an older Bordeaux, or a young, vibrant Austrian Grüner Veltliner. You pour a splash in the glass and give it a sniff. A wave of disappointment crashes down around you as the wine smells like burnt matches and rotten eggs.

Fear not. A little aeration may be all you need.

First, let’s get this out of the way. Not all wine needs to be decanted. Decanting is necessary mostly for younger red wines that need maximum aeration, or for older wines to help remove sediment.

However, just about every wine will improve with some aeration, whether in a decanter or through a quick swirl in the glass. So how much time does a wine need to breathe? And how long should you swirl before your wrist feels like it’s going to fall off? The answer is…it depends.Aerator vs Decanter: Which is Better?

If you have a young, opulent and highly tannic Rhône red, it may need to decant at least an hour to soften tannins and round out any hard edges. This applies to most wines with similar structure and concentration. But, for an easy-drinking New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, something that is fresh, zippy and full of aromatic citrus fruit, an hour of breathing may dull the qualities that give the wine its character.

However, a few swirls and a bit of time to breathe in the glass will usually help reductive or sulfur-related aromas blow off the wine. Here are a few tips to help decide how long a wine should breathe so each pour will shine.

Even at home, pour a sample before a full glass

Just like a sommelier at a restaurant, pour a small sample to test the nose and palate before you commit to a full glass. Some wines may have some reductive or sulfur notes, which come across most notably as aromas of rubber, burnt matches or rotten eggs. Often, these aromas will dissipate after 10–15 minutes. You may opt for a decanter, but it could be simpler to pour a small glass and swirl away to see if those odors fade.

Red wine being poured into decanter
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Young, tannic reds need oxygen to soften tannins

Whether it’s a young Napa Cab, an Argentine Malbec or Aussie Shiraz, these wines typically need a dose of oxygen to smooth out any roughness and soften tannins. Of course, if you enjoy the punch that these wines can pack straight out of the bottle, there’s no need to delay. Allowing them to breathe too long can overly soften their opulent nature.

Still, most young, tannic reds can benefit from some aggressive swirling and 10–20 minutes in the glass. This will help open up big, brooding wines and allow for overpowering oaky notes to fully integrate with the fruit and often high alcohol levels.

Happy friends having fun at dinner party. Bearded man opening wine bottle with bottle opener. Credit Getty
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Older vintage wines may be ready right out of the bottle

There’s a common misconception that older wines all require several hours of decanting. The truth is, even several minutes in a decanter may overly oxidize an older, delicate wine. It can obliterate the drinking window to just a few short seconds.

Yet, there are longer-aged wines, usually those that started with high levels of tannins, alcohol content and fruit concentration, that will benefit from several minutes in the glass to open completely. These could also potentially benefit from decanting.What are Tannins, Really?

The rule of thumb for older wines is that the lighter and older a wine, the less aeration it will need. When in doubt, pour a small sample into a glass and examine it. Red wines tend to lose color with age, meaning the lighter in color the wine appears, the less aeration it will likely need. An inky, bright ruby, opaque older wine will require more oxygenation. The opposite is true for white wines, which gain color as they age.

A juror swirls a glass of wine during the competition 'Best of Gold' in Wuerzburg, Germany, 11 May 2015. A jury elects the best wines from Franconia in the competition. Photo: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand /dpa | usage worldwide (Photo by Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance via Getty Images)
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White and sparkling wines do not typically need aeration

That’s not to say all whites and sparkling wines can’t benefit from a bit of oxygen. If any reductive notes are detected in a white wine, by all means give it some air and possibly 10–15 minutes in a decanter. The same is true for those rich, deep gold whites that may need a little bit of room to stretch their legs. But the vast majority of these wines come out of the bottle ready to rock.

If you pour a sample and the wine is slightly muted or not as aromatic as expected, add a bit more to your glass and swirl away. The problem will usually solve itself.

Enjoy the process

One of the best parts about tasting wine is to see how it develops from the time it’s opened until the last sip. Nothing is more rewarding than when the final taste from a highly anticipated wine is the best of the bottle. It allows you to fully appreciate the journey that it took to get there. So, while aerating and decanting some wines will certainly help bring them to their ideal drinking window, to taste the natural evolution of the wine after it’s opened is its own great pleasure.Published on June 8, 2021

Decanting Wine In A Blender… Really?!?

A couple of weeks ago my cousin told me about an article he read describing this whole decanting wine in a blender craze, and if I thought that it would actually work. I have seen a few different pieces on this ‘hyperdecanting’ fad where you can use handheld devices, or even blenders, to aerate a wine in a matter of seconds. It stems from the same premise as many of the aerators out there which expose wine to as much air as possible allowing them to open up in a flash.

So will putting wine in a blender work? Yeah…If you pour a bottle of wine into a blender that could use a good amount of aeration and hit the switch it probably will do the job. But is it worth it? Do you really want to take something as beautiful and delicate as a bottle of wine and toss it in the same device in which you make your smoothies and protein shakes? I know I don’t… here’s why.

First off, there’s certainly a chance it may damage the wine and minimally will give it some form of a froth. But more importantly, wine is a living and breathing thing…constantly evolving from the day it is made until the time it is consumed. It will also most likely gracefully improve as the wine sits in your glass. Personally, I love to experience how a wine changes in a matter of minutes from something tightly wound up and guarded to a fully expressive and complex treat for all the senses. By allowing it to whip around a blender like a kid on the Rotor,  you could miss one of the best transitional moments in the life of that wine thereby negating the overall enjoyment.

Wine Decanting

So I would say this… open a bottle, pour a little in a glass and give it a good sniff to take in all those delightful aromas. Then take a sip, swirl it around your mouth and let it linger on your palate before letting it go down. If it feels like there should be a little more to the wine then grab an aerator or decanter to help it open up a bit quicker. But if you have the time to wait, just pour yourself a glass and slowly enjoy it over time and you will notice how a really well made wine will slowly transform and mature to its fullest potential. As for the blender… probably best to leave that for the morning to make your favorite homemade hangover concoction.