Do wines need to 'breathe'?
What should you say?
As a follow-up to the discussion in one of last week's Wine Advisor Express bulletins about decanting wine, a related procedure, a number of you have asked for some quick pointers on "breathing."
First, let's define it: "Breathing" or "letting the wine breathe" means opening the bottle some time before serving, with the idea that exposing it to air will somehow make it more enjoyable to drink.
In fact, most wines don't particularly benefit from this practice, and a few might actually suffer from it. In practice, exposure to air is helpful only with immature, ageworthy wines of the type that benefit from aging. Many Bordeaux, a few Rhones and some Burgundies, some of the best Italian red wines and Vintage Port fit into this category, as do their New World counterparts in the pricier realms of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (Shiraz) and a few others.
When you consume wines of this type in their youth, before they are really ready to drink, you may find them "tight" or "closed," showing little of their potential aroma or flavor; and they may be "tannic" or astringent, a characteristic of young reds that usually mellows with age. Wines of this type may open up and mellow a bit if you expose them to air for an hour or two (or even, in some extreme cases, overnight) before serving.
If you're going to let your wine "breathe" at all, don't simply pull out the cork, which exposes only a tiny circle of wine in the bottle neck to the atmosphere. Pour a glass or two, or better yet, decant the wine by pouring the entire bottle into a clean pitcher or decanter.
Again, there's no benefit to breathing wines that don't need aging - most whites and many reds are fresh and fruity and ready to go as soon as you open the bottle. What's more, you should never allow breathing time for an older wine that's already fully mature, as it may be "fragile" with age and give up its spirit quickly after it's poured.
Another approach is to forget about breathing and simply open your wine, take it as it comes, but if you find it shy, harsh and astringent, push back your glass and enjoy it after dinner, after it's had a little air.
What's your opinion about letting wines breathe? First, I hope you'll drop by our Wine Lovers' Voting Booth and cast your just-for-fun ballot in this week's poll, "Do you let wines breathe?" You'll find the Voting Booth at http://www.wineloverspage.com/votebooth.
Then, if you'd like to discuss this topic (or any other) in our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, click to http://www.wineloverspage.com/cgi-bin/sb/index.cgi?fn=1. Or send me E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note. But I'll respond to as many as I can and do my best to address specific questions. Please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine.
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A red that gains from breathing
Monastrell is the Spanish name for the French Mourvedre, and many wine historians believe the grape originated in Spain, where it remains widely planted and popular. It's one of my favorite grapes, and typically makes wines worth considering for "breathing" - fruity yet tannic, full of exotic aromas and flavors that seem to develop with exposure to the air. This one is opaque, almost black in color, with ripe cherry-berry fruit aromas backed by dried herbs, rosemary and sage. Juicy and fresh fruit flavors are structured with fresh-fruit acidity and soft tannins; rather simple at first, it develops bright raspberry fruit and characteristic Mourvedre "tree bark" earthiness after an hour in the glass. U.S. importer: Cutting Edge Selections, Cincinnati. (June 29, 2001)
FOOD MATCH: This wine's forward fruit flavors make it an unusually good match with a mild, fragrant South Indian beef curry with coconut milk.
Brancott (Montana) Sauvignon Blanc
This month's featured wine is a New Zealand 2000 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, labeled "Brancott" in the United States and "Montana" in the rest of the world.
Please click to http://www.wineloverspage.com/forum/wt101.shtml for more information on this wine and Wine Tasting 101.
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Vol. 3, No. 25, July 9, 2001