How to Know Which Wines Needs to ‘Breathe’… and Why

Pouring wine into glass and backgroundBreathe, breathe in the air

Don’t be afraid to care

Leave but don’t leave me

Look around and choose your own ground

The lyrics to the opening song on Pink Floyd’s classic “Dark Side of the Moon” album can be interpreted in a number of ways. The consensus seems to be that life is short, so one should take the time, whenever possible, to be in the here and now — or, to put it in more familiar terms, to smell the roses.

I’m sure there are a few Floyd fans out there who will take me to task about that, but so be it. Great song lyrics need not be black and white in their meaning. In fact, the occasional touch of gray can make a song infinitely more interesting.

Just as we should take time to “breathe in the air,” we also should allow time for certain types of wine to breathe. But what types? And why?

Let’s begin with what “breathing” means as it pertains to wine. Quite simply, allowing a wine to breathe involves exposing it to air for a short period of time before consuming it. This is advisable, in particular, for younger red wines possessing strong tannins that could be perceived as bitter in the mouth.

Exposure to air makes these wines — red Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, among others — more accessible because the air helps soften the tannins and alleviate the harsh impression in the mouth. It also helps the wine release its aromas and flavors in their totality.

By the way, simply uncorking the wine does little to help it “open up.” It’s much more effective to decant it, which simply means pouring it into another vessel so that all of the wine — rather than just that near the neck of the bottle — is exposed to air. The same outcome can be achieved by pouring the wine into individual glasses.

One other thing: Allowing a wine to breathe should not be confused with decanting. That process typically utilizes a vessel specifically designed for it, and involves separating any sediment that may be in the bottle from the wine. Sediment can be found in older red wines as well as younger ones in which no filtering process was used prior to bottling.

So, while decanting does allow a wine to breathe, the process normally is not undertaken for that purpose specifically.

Remember, extended exposure to air is one of the great enemies of wine. So, decant a wine or otherwise allow it to breathe only when you’re ready to drink it.

Then put on your favorite CD (perhaps “Dark Side of the Moon”)… pour a glass…. and breathe in the wine’s enticing aromas.

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