The Wine “Breathing” Myth

Three glasses of wine on a wooden table showing wine breathing myth

Wine lovers all over the world have heard the old adage to let their wine “breathe” before enjoying it.  It’s a common practice to uncork a wine bottle to allow it to “breath” before drinking.  Many believe this simple step allows the wine to interact with oxygen in order to enhance the flavors of the wine.  However, the reality is more complex than the popular myth suggests.  Did you know that simply removing the cork from a bottle does not truly allow the wine to “breathe”?  In reality, the narrow space of the bottle neck which is the only location where the wine can actually contact oxygen, when it is in the bottle, is inadequate to produce any change in the wine within even 24 hours, let alone a few minutes.  Contrary to the common belief that the wine transforms within moments of uncorking, the reality is the process is far more gradual.  If you want to unlock the true potential of wine aeration and experience a noticeable difference in the wine’s flavor profiles, the practice (and technique) of decanting becomes essential.

Proper decanting of a wine involves pouring the wine into a larger decanter style vessel, creating a greater surface area for the wine to come into contact with oxygen.  If you are patient and allow the wine to decant over an extended period of 30-180 minutes, it can be well worth the wait.  So, what can you expect from this process?  Extended exposure to oxygen helps soften the tannins, release the complex aromas, and improve the overall texture and taste of the wine.  The process of aeration is quite nuanced, as not all wines benefit equally from extended aeration. Young, tannic red wines are often the best candidates for extended aeration as the process helps mellow the overall tight structure of a young wine.  More delicate white wines or older reds may require gentler handling and shortened or no aeration time to preserve the subtle and delicate flavors.

Next time you reach for a special bottle of wine, be certain to consider the art of decanting to help unlock the true potential of a particular wine.

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