What Types and Kinds of Wine Need to Breathe?

What Types and Kinds of Wine Need to Breathe

Many movies and shows have made references to letting the wine breathe before drinking. Allowing a wine to breathe allows the wine to aerate to improve the flavor of the wine. However, not all wines’ flavors improve with aeration. 

What kind of wine needs to breathe? Young wines that are high in tannins need to breathe before drinking to soften the flavors. Older, aged wines might benefit to bring out the desired aromas. Many white wines, sparkling wines, and wines with delicate flavors do not need to breathe to improve their flavor or aroma. 

Below, we’ll discuss what kind of wine needs to breathe, how to properly breathe wine, and how the flavors or aromas improve through this process. 

What Kind of Wine Needs to Breathe?

Young wines that are high in tannins tend to be harsh, bitter, or cause a puckering sensation when tasted. Tannins are naturally found in all varieties of grapes that are used to make wine. 

Tannins are technically a phenolic, which is a compound that can cause a dry or astringent feeling in the mouth. Tannins can also be imparted into the wine from the barrels where the wine ages. Some grape varieties have more tannins than others, and more tannins will be imparted into wine the longer it sits on the seeds and skins, or in the barrel.

You can read more about what tannins are in this post.

Wines that are high in tannins improve with aging. The tannins will polymerize over time, meaning that they will bind together in long chains, making them taste less harsh. Young wines have not undergone a long enough aging process to soften their tannins.

Letting a wine breath, or aerating, the wine introduces oxygen into the wine. The tannins can bind with the oxygen in the air, improving their flavor.

Wines that are aged sometimes develop aromas from the bottle that might be undesirable. These aromas might be reminiscent of acetone, earthy vegetables, or even hard-boiled eggs. Decanting these wines and letting them breathe allow these aromas to evaporate before drinking, allowing the true flavor and aroma the wine to be expressed. 

Examples of young wine, typically less than 5-8 years old, that need to breathe include: 

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Syrah
  • Sangiovese
  • Malbec
  • Tempranillo

How to Breathe a Wine

Breathing a wine introduces oxygen to the wine for a short period of time before drinking. Too much oxidation can also ruin the flavor of a wine, such as recorking a bottle to drink again after a day or two.  

Simply opening a bottle is often not enough to properly oxidize the wine, as the surface area to volume of wine is fairly low. There are several options to aerate the wine, such as using an aerator, decanting, or pouring a glass and waiting. 

Using an aerator may have mixed results, as each aerator will have a different pouring pattern. The aerator attaches to the bottle of wine, and the wine is poured through the aerator into a glass similar to a showerhead, rather than a single stream. 

Decanting wine provides consistent, reliable results. The wine is poured into a decanter, which has a large bottom bulb and a narrow neck. The wide bottom allows for more air to come into contact with the volume of wine, while the narrow neck allows for easy pouring. Younger wines may need to be decanted up to one to two hours before drinking, while older wines may only need half an hour. 

Finally, wine can be poured directly into the glass, lightly swirled inside the glass, then allowed to rest. While sipping the wine, you should taste improvements to the flavor the longer you take to enjoy your glass. 

The shape of your wine glass can also greatly influence the aromas and flavors of your wine. Red wine glasses are on average larger than white wine glasses, but the opening size and the overall volume can affect how vapors released from the wine reach the drinker’s mouth and nose. 

A glass with a wider opening will also ethanol vapors to evaporate, dissipating the burn of alcohol more quickly. A larger glass will increase the surface area, similar to as described with a decanter. Wines that need to breathe will benefit from being served in a larger wine glass with a wider opening. 

When Not to Breathe a Wine

Wines that are low in tannins do not greatly improve by breathing. White wines, light-bodied red wines, and lower cost wines are typically lower in tannins. White wines are usually not aged as long as reds. 

In fact, by decanting and aerating some wines, the drinking experience may even degrade. For example, letting a sparkling wine breathe will reduce the bubbles in the wine, similar to how a soda goes flat over time. 

Aeration can also expose bad or off-flavors in a wine, or degrade delicate flavors. For example, tannins in a Pinot Noir are usually low and through aerating the wine, these tannins may become imperceptible to a new wine drinker. 

Examples of wines that don’t need to breathe include: 

  • Pinot Noir
  • Beaujolais
  • Light Chiantis
  • Most white wines
  • Sparkling Wines
  • Ports
  • Full-bodied red wines older than 8-10 years

Decanting Wines with Sediment

You may want to decant a wine to remove sediment from the bottle. Sediment might come from the fermentation process, or from aging. While natural, drinking sediment might not be desirable. 

Sediment can usually be seen in the bottle of wine if held up to a strong light, or by shining a flashlight through the bottle. To remove the sediment, let the wine rest upright for a day or two to allow the sediment to fall to the bottom of the bottle. Pour the wine into a decanter, stopping just before the sediment starts to pour into the decanter. 

See this post if you are concerned with drinking sediment in wine.