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How long should I let my wine breathe?

Posted by Carey Schulz on

Here at the New Zealand Wine Co-Op, we don’t just want to provide you with some of New Zealand’s best wines, we also want to help you to get the most out of these wines and enjoy every last drop. We will be providing lots of hints and tips which will hopefully give you a better understanding of the wine you are drinking and help you to appreciate the skills of the expert winemakers who make up our wonderful co-op.

Tips for letting your wine breathe

You have no doubt heard people talking about ‘letting your wine breathe’ and for some, you may be wondering what that’s all about. The whole concept of letting your wine breathe or aerate is to maximise your wine’s exposure to the surrounding air. The main purpose of this is to allow your wine's tannins to soften and to give better integration of flavours and aromas. This makes the wine fresher and more expressive, allowing the wine’s aromas to open up and the flavour profile of your wine to mellow.

Which wines need to breathe?

Typically letting your wine breathe is more associated with red wines, however there are some whites that will benefit from a little aeration and exposure to the air. If you are drinking a particularly young red wine with high tannin levels, these will typically need a little longer to breathe than an older wine. These young wines will benefit from up to an hour of exposure to the air for the flavour softening to take place.

Most wines, red or white, will benefit from 15-20 minutes of air exposure to release their flavour and for maximum enjoyment.

If you’re lucky enough to have some really mature red wines (8+ years old), these are a different story altogether. These wines should be properly decanted and then they have a relatively small window, or aeration time, before the flavour profile actually starts to deteriorate. If you’re planning on drinking a mature red wine, we would always recommend sharing with friends so you can all get the maximum flavour benefits – wine is always better when shared with friends.

What is the best way to let my wine breathe?

One of the common mistakes that people make when letting their wine breathe is simply opening the bottle 20 minutes before they are ready to drink it. This is often compounded by leaving the wine to breathe in the kitchen whilst cooking. Simply opening a bottle and leaving it on the side does not allow enough air into the top of the bottle to allow for adequate amounts of air to make contact with the wine. Add this to the steam and commotion going on around you in the kitchen and that wine has little chance of breathing.

So, what is the best thing to do?

There are typically two options; decanter the wine or more typically, the wine glass technique.

Decanter: People often think you need one of those fancy wine decanters to let your wine breathe and whilst those look great and definitely maximise the surface area exposure to air, any large container for liquid will do a pretty good job, so a flower vase or juice jug will work perfectly well. The more surface area you expose to the air, the more of the delicious wine that comes into contact and the more flavour is released.

Wine glass: for most people, the easiest and to be honest a pretty effective way of decanting wine is to pour the wine into the glass 15-20 minutes before you are ready to drink it. It’s best to set the glass away from the kitchen so maybe at the dining room table and make sure when you pour, you allow a good 6-10 inches of fall to allow the wine to breathe as it enters the glass. The limitation of this technique is that you are obviously only decanting the number of glasses you pour, so if you are drinking alone, you are only aerating one glass at a time.

In conclusion

As a general rule of thumb, the more tannins in a wine (strong red wines), the longer that wine should be aerated. A light-bodied wine like the Central Otago Pinot Noirs available from the New Zealand Wine Co-Op will typically take less time to breathe than a heavier Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon.

If you have any questions about the best techniques for letting you wine breathe, please drop us a comment below and we will get back to you.

Thanks for reading.

Cheers,

Carey

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