A guide to letting wine breathe.

A beginner’s guide to letting wine breathe

The question of whether wines should be given time to breathe is one that I’m often asked. Will the wine taste better poured straight out of the bottle into your glass or will it need a little aeration beforehand?

When choosing a wine, either in a restaurant, or when browsing the shelves in a wine merchant, most people will be looking for a wine that can be drunk straight away—the practice of ‘laying down’ wines is for collectors. I too am a believer that wines are made to be drunk—but the trick is knowing how to get the best out of each wine when you do. Most commercially-available wines can be drunk straight away and the ‘breathing’ part can be done while the wine is swirling around in your glass, naturally coming up to room temperature.

A younger wine may be improved slightly by giving it a little aeration before drinking—whenever I open any bottle of wine, be it screwcap or cork, I always let the wine breathe naturally for a minute or so. However, decanting an older wine—which perhaps comes from an outstanding chateau or vineyard and has spent many years being matured in the bottle, during which natural sediments form—is absolutely vital. In my opinion, most full-bodied wines—from opulent and fragrant whites and flavoursome and powerful reds, to a decent vintage port—also benefit from being decanted.

Mortal enemy
Saying that, oxygen is the mortal enemy of an opened bottle of wine—we’ve all seen a half-drunk bottle lose freshness and go flat, and inevitably we pour it down the sink. There is now an interesting gadget from Coravin that allows you to serve fresh glasses of wine from the same bottle over weeks or even months: a syringe is inserted through the cork to deliver the gas then, due to cork’s elastic properties, it neatly reseals the bottle once the syringe is withdrawn—perfect for those special wines to be enjoyed over two or three nights.

In addition, my advice would be to get hold of some decent glassware, so that each wine, whatever its type, has the perfect shape and environment in which to express itself. I have several preferences for wine glasses, including Zalto, Riedel and Italesse. I suggest you visit EuroCave or Philglas & Swiggot in Marylebone and ask a friendly member of staff to assist you.


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