How Long to Let Wine Breathe: Red to White Explained

How Long to Let Wine Breathe: Red to White Explained

Every living thing needs to breathe, and many experts believe that wine is no different. But is it necessary to let the wine breathe, and does it offer any benefits?

Wine “breathing” may be an unfamiliar concept for many, so first, let’s touch on wine culture.

Wine culture can be class or geographic-oriented, and it can lead to some intimidation when you start to immerse yourself into the world of wine. The best thing to do is educate yourself on why things like breathing wine are done, what it really means, and how to do it. 

Related: Storing Wine at Home: Tips & Best Practices

So, is letting your wine breathe necessary? How long should it breathe for? How do you do it? We’ll answer all of your wine breathing questions.

What Does It Mean to Let Your Wine Breathe?

Allowing your wine to breathe is a simple process of exposing the wine to air before you serve it. The theory is that letting your wine breathe before serving is that exposing it to air lets it oxidize, which softens the flavors and releases its aromas. Wine breathing is also called aeration. The reaction that occurs actually changes the flavor of the wine.

Which Wines Need to Breathe?

For the most part, you don’t need to let white wines breathe. They don’t typically benefit from aeration because they don’t contain the high levels of tannins that red wine does. The exception is white wines that are intended to age and develop more earthy flavors.

However, even with those particular white wines, we recommend tasting them before letting them breathe to see if they will benefit from aeration.

Many red wines, like Red Zinfandel, Bordeaux, and Cabernet Sauvignon, have lots of tannins, and they taste better after breathing because the tannins soften, resulting in a less harsh taste. Inexpensive red wines, particularly ones with fruity flavors, don’t usually benefit from aeration. They might even taste worse after breathing!

Fruity red wines typically taste the best right after you pull the cork, and it’s best to drink them before they oxidize. They can start to taste flat after only thirty minutes. Sometimes, inexpensive red wines might have a strong alcohol odor. If they do, the best thing to do is pour the wine and allow it to sit for a few minutes before drinking.

Red wines like the ones we mentioned above (Red Zinfandel, Bordeaux, and Cabernet Sauvignon) all have earthy flavors and benefit the most from letting them breathe. Aeration is extra important for wines that have aged for a few years, and they’ll display a great range of aromas and flavors if you allow them to breathe.

Related: Buying a Case of Wine: Buyer’s Guide

How to Aerate Wine

When you first uncork a bottle of wine, there won’t be much interaction with air because of the bottle’s narrow neck. You can uncork it and let it breathe on its own for thirty minutes to an hour, but aeration speeds up the process so that you can enjoy your wine faster. We also recommend tasting the wine before aerating and then deciding whether or not you want to proceed.

The easiest (and fastest) method to let your wine breathe is by attaching an aerator to the bottle, which aerates the wine while you pour it. There are many different wine aerators, and choosing the right one will make your wine much more enjoyable!

Another option is using a decanter. Wine decanters are large containers that will hold a whole bottle of wine. They have small necks for easy pouring, large surfaces for air to mix with the wine, and a curved shape that prevents you from getting wine sediment in your glass.

If you don’t have an aerator or decanter handy, you can pour the wine back and forth between two different containers or swirl it in your glass before drinking. For the more adventurous wine drinkers, you can also “hyperdecant” your wine in the blender to aerate it! However, it’s easy to overdo it with this method.

How Long to Aerate Wine Before Enjoying

There is much debate about how long you should aerate or decant wine before drinking. Much of the confusion exists because of the general belief that air and wine have negative effects on each other. Let’s clear up a few things.

  • Wine that’s poured from a bottle and swirled in a glass is considered positive. The air mixture lets the aromas be easily displayed and enjoyed.
  • Wine that is briefly exposed to air is considered positive. It allows the wine to breathe after stagnating in a bottle for weeks, months, or years. The air exposure has positive effects after approximately 30 minutes. However, wines with many tannins may need two to three hours of breathing.
  • Wine that’s exposed to air for an extended period is considered negative. After a day of exposure, many wines will develop a vinegary taste or smell. Sweet wines and red wines tend to last longer due to the preservative properties of tannins and sugar.
  • You can extend the life of an aerated white wine by refrigerating it after letting it breathe.

Is It Necessary to Let My Wine Breathe?

There is also much debate about whether letting your wine breathe is beneficial or not. Aeration does help enhance some wine’s aromas and tastes, but it’s largely personal preference. 

Here’s a great way to see if letting your favorite wine breathe is a good idea or not:

  1. Open a bottle of your favorite wine and pour a small amount.
  2. Swirl the wine around your glass.
  3. Take a drink. You might notice that the first drink might taste a bit harsh or dusty because of the tannins.
  4. Swirl it again, and have another taste in ten minutes. You’ll likely notice a change in the flavor as the tannins settle and the air mixes in the alcohol.
  5. Repeat the process, and soon you’ll find the best aeration time for your favorite wine!

Related: How Long Can Wine Last Before and After Opening?

Enjoy your wine with the best wine glasses and accessories. Come see what we’re brewing up at Taste of Purple!

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