To breathe, or not to breathe? When to aerate or decant a wine

by Jul 17, 2020News0 comments

To be, or not to be?  (Photo by Amer Aryaei, from Pexels)To be, or not to be?  (Photo by Amer Aryaei, from Pexels)

To be, or not to be? (Photo by Amer Aryaei, from Pexels)

(A Shakespearean introduction for a weekend post? We might be getting over-dramatic, sorry for the pun.)

Hi, dear reader! We are back with a take on when it’s best to aerate (and also decant) a wine.

It could be that you have a decanter or a wine aerator at home.

But have you ever really thought about what they are really useful for?

Well, it’s widely said that leaving a bottle open for a while before pouring the wine into a glass makes it taste the best, given that aeration would allow it to fully “breathe”. Or also that decanting is a always a must-do.

Apart from the fact that a wine already starts “breathing” when you open the bottle, aerating a wine can mean something pretty simple you do without realizing: by swirling your glass, you are already pumping some oxygen in there.

This allows it to release aromas and also evaporating some of the alcohol that otherwise would be excessively felt on the nose and the palate.

All in all, the aeration (in this bigger sense of having it open earlier, especially by decanting), does allow a fuller expression of many wines.

Decanting is great for young, tannic wines, but it’s not something universal.  (Photo by Geoff Parsons)Decanting is great for young, tannic wines, but it’s not something universal.  (Photo by Geoff Parsons)

Decanting is great for young, tannic wines, but it’s not something universal. (Photo by Geoff Parsons)

This happens mainly to red wines, especially bolder ones.

You’ll most likely notice this if you allow the aeration of or decant younger, tannic reds, like the full-bodied superstars Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, stronger Tuscan blends, Douro or Malbec. This will help mellow the stronger tannins and evaporate the most volatile aromas, whilst emphasising fruit and oak aromas.

Decanting provides a bigger surface of contact with oxygen, making this “breathing” process much more efficient in within less than half to an hour, and also separates unwanted deposits, such as unfiltered crystals and sediments, which bolder reds usually carry in larger amounts.

It’s also a pretty charming act, but that’s another story.

It’s not always a case of decanting

Larger aeration, as from decanting, can on the other hand make older, complex or more delicate age-worthy wines fade quickly, muting some of its more subtle fruity aromas.

This is also that you should think of when looking at lighter red wines, such as Pinot Noir.

Meaning: maybe it isn’t the case to decant that lovely Burgundy, just swirl.

In the case of white wines, which are tannin-free, it is even less necessary. It could even be that the excessive aeration and volatility could numb the fruity aromas in there and misbalance their acidity.

A tip, when in doubt? Swirl and compare the performance.

More importantly: when aerating or decanting, be sure to pay attention to the best serving temperature and the best glass to sip each wine.

Knowing the best steps in all these three parts is what will really make a difference to fully enjoy your wine’s aromas and flavors.


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