Does a Wine Need to Breathe?

Filed in Gather Food Essential by on February 10, 2009 0 Comments

This is one of the most controversial subjects among my wine friends, and everyone seems to have a different answer or angle regarding the question.

I think most of my peer group would agree that simply opening a bottle of wine an hour or two before service will not really help the wine. It also will not hurt the wine. It is probably a good idea if you are having a dinner party at home to open your wines before the guests arrive.

What is bothersome to me is when a waiter in a restaurant asks me whether I would like my wine to breathe before he or she serves it. A waiter once told me that the wine I had ordered needed as least thirty minutes’ “breathing” before I  could drink it. Not only do I disagree, but as a restaurant director, I certainly hope the customer is ordering a second bottle thirty minutes later!

The major question still remains, though. Does a wine improve when it is taken out of the bottle and put into your decanter or glass? There are many schools of thought. IÂ’ve had students swear to me that certain wines tasted much better after three hours in the decanter than when first served from the bottle. On the other hand, many studies with professional wine people have shown no discernible difference between most wines opened, poured, and consumed immediately and those that have been in a decanter over an extended period of time.

One thing for sure is that very old wine (more than twenty-five years) should be opened and consumed immediately. One of the most interesting wine experiences I ever had was early in my career, and involved a bottle of a 1945 Burgundy. When I opened the wine, the room filled with the smell of great wine. The first taste of the wine was magnificent. Unfortunately, fifteen minutes after opening the bottle, everything about the wine changed, especially the taste. The wine started losing its fruit, and the acidity overpowered the fruit.

What happened? Oxygen is the culprit here. If I had decanted that wine first and left it to “breathe,” I would never have had that first fifteen-minutes of pleasure. This probably will not happen every time you open an old bottle of wine, but it is very important to be aware of how fragile older wines can be.

So whatÂ’s my advice after opening thousands and thousands of bottles of wine? For me, Open it up, pour it in a glass, and enjoy the wine!

The above post appears in the 2009 edition of the Windows on the World Complete Wine Course by Kevin Zraly, available in bookstores now. Look for the 25th anniversary edition in Fall of 2009. The Windows on the World Complete Wine Course is the world’s best-selling, most highly praised wine book.


About the Author ()

Kevin Zraly has studied winemaking techniques in all the major wine regions of the world and conducted wine classes for more than thirty years. He worked at the Windows on the World Restaurant from its opening in 1976 until September 11, 2001. Th

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