How To Let

Friends have asked me how should they let wine breathe if they don’t have a decanter.

And when they ask this I beam with pride because it means they are learning.  This is a good question to ask.

You definitely don’t need a decanter to let wine breathe.

Most of the time, I do not use a decanter.  In fact, I rarely use a decanter just because it is added work.  I like decanters, but I don’t use them all that much.

But I do let wine breathe.  I let nearly every bottle of wine I drink breathe.


It couldn’t be easier.

You open the bottle of wine, then place the cork back in the top of the bottle, but don’t push it too hard the cork is just there to prevent flies from getting to the sugary liquid and to keep the wine in the bottle if someone happens to bump into it.

As soon as the wine interacts with oxygen, the wine has begun breathing.

There are two times when you want to expose wine to a bunch of oxygen:

  1. When the wine is fermenting in the tank or barrel during the winemaking process.
  2. When you open the bottle of wine before drinking.

Does it slow the breathing process down if you stick the cork back in the bottle?  Does the wine breathe faster if the cork is off and the wine is just exposed to the air?

No to both questions.

As soon as the cork is pulled out of the bottle the wine instantly starts reacting with the oxygen.  This process is irreversible.  There is also nothing you can do to speed up the process, and there is nothing you need to do to assist the process of breathing except to wait.

This is the hard part.

To let wine breathe you need to open it and wait.  A lot of times it is easier said than done.

Through my thoroughly unscientific wine studies, I’ve found that you need to wait a least 30 minutes before drinking.

I’ve gotten pretty good at this and pretty used to this rule over the years and I usually open a bottle of wine, then go about my business, then get back to the wine when I am ready to drink.

If you are ready to drink and you open the wine and just wait for it to be ready, well that’s a painfully slow process.

What Type of Wine Needs To Breathe?

I let nearly all wine breathe, the exception to this rule is sparkling wine and Champagne.  Sparking wine is ready to drink as soon as you open it.

New wines or younger wines need to breathe because they can be very tight and harsh.  If you let them breathe they soften with time exposed to air.

Old wines need to breathe because they are old.  No great explanation here.  They need time to dust off the argon and open up.  I feel like most older wines need longer to breathe, maybe an hour, maybe two, and maybe more.

Maybe all day.

I’ve opened an old bottle of wine in the morning, so that it would be ready to drink in the evening.

It all just depends on the wine.

Do Some Wines Need To Breathe Longer Than Others?

Yes, I’d say some wines do need more time to breathe than others, but I don’t have a good idea of which ones.

In general I think old and really old wines need hours to breathe.  I have seen bottles that got opened that I thought were long past due and basically garbage, come around and be enjoyable with a hour or two of breathing to open the flavors up.

I have also noticed that Barbera wines from Italy like Barbera d’Alba seem to need a longer time to breathe.  There was this one barbera d’Alba I used to buy that at first I thought was no good, so I didn’t drink it.

I got home from work the next day and tasted it, and it was awesome!  I couldn’t believe it.  It’s been nearly 10 years since I used to buy that wine regularly so I forgot the name and producer of it, otherwise I’d tell you.

I used to drink a fair amount of Seghesio’s Barbera, which is grown in Sonoma, California, and I remember that it benefitted from hours of breathing.  It did not need as much time as the barbera d’Alba mentioned above though.

I’m not sure.  Maybe it’s just me, but I find that barbera’s benefit from a bit more breathing than the average wine.

How Long Does Special Wine Need To Breathe?

This is a good question and the answer is it depends, but you should always let special wine breathe.

My favorite wines are beautiful Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon’s from Rutherford and Stag Leap District.  When I get my hands on one of these beauties you know I give it at least 30 minutes to an hour to breathe.

It’s always worth it to let a special wine, no matter where it is grown, to be given plenty of time to breathe.

When Wine Tells Stories

When you are drinking a great wine, it does not need to be expensive to be great, it can often tell you a story.

When you let a wine breathe for a while, then you start drinking it with friends or family, and the wine continues to open up, to evolve and change as the bottle empties, I call this the wine telling you a story.

Not all wines do this, but the ones that do, always make you sad when story time ends.

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