Letting wines breathe

Is there a benefit in letting a wine breathe? This is a frequently asked question at wine tastings. The answer is generally yes for red wines, as oxygen in the air allows aromas to develop. However, the amount of air which is allowed through the neck of a bottle is minimal. In this scenario, there is really no benefit. If you take the same bottle of wine and pour it into a decanter, or indeed a glass jug or bottle, the benefit is usually quite evident.

I showed this quite successfully recently at my one day wine tasting course. A bottle of Springfield Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 from South Africa, was tasting quite well – the tannins were just softening up to reveal ripe black fruit, vanilla and a pungent aroma reminiscent of a butcher’s block, classic South African. I simply poured it into a clean bottle and then back into its original bottle – thereby double-decanting. The result was a much more approachable wine – more rounded aromas, smoother tannins, riper fruit, less smoky pungency. Each and every person agreed that there was a marked improvement.

A similar effect will be achieved by using a large wine glass to aerate wine. Swirling the glass will draw oxygen in and aromas will be released. You may have already noticed how a wine can seem to change as you are drinking and swirling an enjoyable wine. A gadget called an aerator will do the same job, and there are several brands on the market.

This insider wine tip isn’t just for expensive wines. Try this simple decanting process at home and notice an improvement for most mid-priced red wines (from about €13) and upwards.

There are relatively few white wines which will improve by decanting. I have seen Veuve Clicquot Demi Sec champagne being decanted, with much pomp and white gloves, but I don’t think it tasted any better for it.

When aerating older wines, allow them to stand upright for a day beforehand.  This allows the sediment to settle in the bottom (punt) of the bottle.  Then decant (pour in good light so you can stop once you come near the sediment), pouring within an hour of drinking, since the effect can overwhelm the wine, and you may lose the precious ethereal qualities you have been nurturing.

Pick up more practical tips on buying wine and enjoying wine at Premier Wine Training’s one-day wine course in Dublin.