Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
Is there a good rule of thumb for how long you should let a wine breathe? I have been reading some cellar notes suggesting two or more hours. Thanks.
—Michael S., Tucson, Ariz.
As you know, to say a wine needs to “breathe” refers to exposing it to oxygen, or aerating it. Breathing begins the moment the cork is pulled (or the twist-off is untwisted), but wine inside a just-opened bottle doesn’t get much air. When people talk about prolonged breathing—the two or more hours you’re referring to—they usually mean decanting the wine. Both the process of pouring the wine into a different container and the larger surface area of the wine inside that container will enhance the aeration process.
How long a wine should breathe depends on how it tastes, and it really is a matter of personal preference. Typically, young and tannic red wines become more expressive with aeration. But there’s no formula to know how much aeration any given wine will need to show its best.
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