The right way to make a wine breathe

Special to WJW

Going through my email bag to answer some of your questions about kosher wines and spirits. If you have a question, from the simple to the seriously technical, feel free to email me at lchaimQs@gmail.com

What does letting the wine breathe mean?

The idea is metaphorical. A wine “breathes” in the sense that exposure to air — or breathing — helps unlock a wine’s inner character as the wine softens and opens up through interaction with oxygen.

The wine will become more expressive as it seemingly releases more of its aromas and flavors from this aeration. This is why wine lovers swirl wine in their glasses, further unleashing the wine’s aromas and flavors. Too much air, however, will negatively affect wine — inducing oxidation and eventually the growth of vinegar bacteria. This is why wine tends not to last more than a few days once the bottle has been opened.

Some consumers also harbor the belief that allowing a bottle to stand open for a short time induces a wine’s beneficial “breathing.” This is a bit silly, though mostly harmless. An opened but otherwise undisturbed bottle of wine allows for minimal exposure to air, and so negligible — bordering on imperceptible — aeration occurs, as the actual exposed surface area of wine in the neck of the bottle is very small.

Effective beneficial exposure of wine to air in the process of wine service is usually induced through vigorous swirling in one’s glass. Some folks also like to decant wine to facilitate aeration.

What is a wine decanter? Do I need one?

A decanter is a serving vessel into which wine is decanted, or poured, from its initial container. Decanters are typically made of glass or crystal, and come with a stopper (if stopper-less, they are more properly called carafes).

No, you do not really need one. A decanter is not, strictly speaking, ever necessary, but their use generally makes for an aesthetically pleasing refinement in the service of wine, especially when serving a wine that has precipitated a lot of sediment.
Sediment is natural and harmless, but not terribly pleasant. When decanting wine to separate it from its sediment, pour gradually, being careful to prevent the sediment from entering the decanter.

Some folks also like to decant really young wines, even though no sediment is present, because the aeration that ensues in pouring wine from its closed container into a decanter, especially when done vigorously, is thought to really benefit and open an otherwise tight and closed wine. When decanting a wine to open it, simply pour the wine from bottle to decanter, maximizing agitation of the liquid, so that the wine is given plenty of contact with the air.

Decanting is largely a matter of personal preference, and I rarely bother. Exposure to air starts the countdown on a given wine’s limited best-by timetable. The time differential between glory and death, especially in really old or delicate wines, can be a matter of minutes. Patience and vigorous swirling in one’s glass is generally sufficient to help one maximally enjoy wine.

What’s good this week?

Jacques Capsouto Vignobles, Cotes de Galilee Village, Cuvee Eva Blanc, Galilee, Israel, 2015 ($20; nonmevushal): This splendid white blend of 40 percent Grenache Blanc, 30 percent Clairette, 20 percent Marsanne, and 10 percent Roussanne exhibits inviting and delicious fresh and fruity notes aromas and flavors of dried herbs, honeysuckle, white peach, pineapple, citrus fruit, a touch of vanilla and lovely green apple, all buttressed by stony minerality. Crisp, refreshing and tasty. L’chaim! n

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