Which Wines Need to Breathe?

If you leave a wine to breathe you could improve its quality, but there are some wines you should drink the minute you open them up. This is why Ideal Wine Company has decided to ask; which wines need to breathe?

Benefits of aeration

When we say that we’re letting a wine “breathe,” we’re not saying that we’re letting it breath the same way a human being does. Rather, we’re saying that we’ve opened its cork and exposed it to the air in a process called ‘aeration.’

Conventional wisdom holds that aerating a wine makes it taste better, and the people who first came up with this theory had a point. When some wines are exposed to oxygen, they release the array of flavours and aromas that are locked within their depths, allowing them to become more “expressive.”

Importance of tannins

This is because some wines contain ‘tannins.’ A tannin is a naturally occurring polyphenol found in grape skin and wood. It lends a bitter, acidic character to wine, that can make your favourite tipple taste far too harsh if you drink it after you’ve just opened the bottle.

Tannins soften when they’re exposed to air, and this is the reason we’re talking about them. It means that tannin-rich wines such as hearty reds, especially younger bottles such as the Two Hands Deer in Headlights 2004, which you can buy from the Ideal Wine Company, need to be allowed to breathe.

In contrast, you don’t need to let white wines and Champagnes breathe before serving. You definitely shouldn’t allow Champagnes to breathe because they’ll go flat, and no one likes flat bubbly. However, if a white wine has been aged for a significant amount of time in a wooden barrel it may contain tannins which means it should be aerated before it’s served.

Decanting

However, if you open up a bottle of red and just leave it to aerate you’re not really doing it right. This is because the bottle of the neck is narrow, so you only expose the wine to a surface area that’s roughly the size of a penny, meaning that the vintage won’t receive the air it needs to breathe.

If you want to maximise your vintage’s ability to breathe, you need to pour it into a decanter. This allows your red to take a deep breath, and gives it the time it needs to filter out the sediment that can build up as a result of the wine making process. This is why you really need to learn how to use a decanter.

Rule of thumb

Take this as a rule of thumb. If you’ve decided to buy a Krug 1988 from the Ideal Wine Company, whatever you do, don’t let it breathe. However, if you’ve decided to purchase a Hermitage La Chapelle 1985, you should let it aerate, as red wines need to be allowed to breathe before they’re served.