Does wine need to breathe?

"Would you like me to open it so it can breathe?"

How many times have you been at a restaurant and ordered a bottle of wine. The waiter brings it over, presents the wine and she asks you the "open and let it breathe" question. What do you say?

We've all been there. What do you say? Does the wine need to breathe? Does ANY wine need to breathe? What does it mean for a wine to breathe anyway?

The simple answer is that some red wines (and some high quality white wines) need aeration because of the high degree of tannins that can be found in the wine.

Without getting too technical (read: boring) these tannins can give a wine (especially a young wine) a harsh astringent taste. When the wine comes in contact with air, the oxygen will break down the tannins giving the wine a softer more pleasing taste. So, based on this, when the waiter asks the "open and let it breathe" question you have been dumb lucky and correct to say yes.

Maybe maybe not.

First of all, if the wine needs to breathe how much breathin you gonna get out of a hole the size of a quarter? You guessed it.....not much. So if the wine does need to breathe you need to have the wine decanted. No big mystery, decanting is simply pouring the wine out of the bottle into a fancy jug called a decanter. This will allow more of the wine to come in contact with the air which will allow the wine to "open up" more quickly then gasping for breath out of the opening of a bottle.

But do all red wines need to breathe? The simple answer is no. So here is a cheat sheet for what to say when the waiter pops the question.

No white wines unless you are springing for a young grand cru white burgundy in which case I hope I'm with you .

For reds? Honestly, the average bottle of red wine ordered at a restaurant won't improve dramatically by allowing it to breathe. But here is a compromise. When hit with the "open and let it breathe" question simply tell the waiter to go ahead and pour it even if your not ready to drink it. Your glass will act like a mini decanter and the wine will benefit from just sitting in the glass.

A bigger problem then letting it breathe is the temperature most restaurants (or you at home for that matter) serve wine. But that will be a topic for another time.

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