There has been an ongoing, age-old battle of whether or not you should let wine breathe before serving. The answer is not a simple one. It depends…
Letting wine breathe is the process of exposing it to air for a period of time before it is consumed. The thought is that letting wine breathe enhances aromatics, thereby heightening your senses and making your overall wine drinking experience more pleasurable. Exposing wine to air for a short time before serving promotes oxidation (as does swirling your wine glass), softening the flavors and showcasing the complexity of Bacchus’ nectar…usually.
Typically, red wines can greatly benefit from the wine breathing process because breathing enables their fruit flavors to intensify. Wines with a sulfur-like odor can become more pleasant after breathing because enabling these wines to breathe will allow volatile aromas to evaporate.
Then age comes into play. Think of wine as a person. You can shake your young son awake, but your old granny may need a while to limber up before she can amble out of bed. Hence, young wines don’t need much time to reduce their tannins. However, you may want to give your older wines a little longer to revive from their long slumber in the bottle.
Now, here’s where the whole breathing thing gets a little dicey. The breathing process with older, more fragile wines – like a white Rhone or an Alsace Riesling – should not be overdone; nor should younger, more subtle wines – like your pinot noirs. Also keep in mind that wines that need more aerating will perform better in a wide mouth decanter than gasping for the little bit of breath that a slender necked wine bottle can offer.
So, basically, allowing your wine to breathe with the goal of enabling it to reach its full potential and making your wine drinking experience as enjoyable as possible really depends on the character and age of the particular wine you choose. Here’s the good news. Experimenting on your own at home might be fun!