Why Allowing Your Homemade Wines To Breathe Is Important…

Man Allowing Wine To BreatheI made my first wine and it came out great. I made a Cabernet Sauvignon from one of your homemade wine kits. I started it in January and aged it with oak chips for 6 month. Then bottled. It still tastes a little young. Something I do not understand is that it taste better after I let it sit out for a few hours. Why does it improve when left out?
Jason
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Hello Jason,

Thanks for the great question! I believe you have stumbled upon something that is, in large part, ignored by most home wine makers. What we are talking about is allowing the wine to breathe.

It is important to understand what is meant when we say breath in this context. We are not talking about taking breaths as a living thing would, but rather, we are talking about decanting the wine and allowing it to react to the air. The wine is being freed from the suffocating confines of a wine bottle and cork.

To let the wine breathe the bottle is normally poured into a carafe. The wine is simply allowed time to sit. But unlike the hours you mentioned, the wine only needs to be given maybe 10 or 15 minutes when using a carafe. If you are just popping the cork from the wine bottle the effect will take longer and not be quite as dramatic. Using a carafe significantly cuts down how long you need to let the wine breathe.

shop_wine_kitsWhen allowing a wine to breathe some chemistry takes place. First, fumes release from the wine. Any off, volatile gases that may have built up while in the wine bottle are given the time to release and dissipate. Also, the natural bouquet or aroma of the wine is also allowed time to develop and blossom.

The second process is the wine starts a subtle, oxidative exchange with the air. This reduces the harshness of the wine’s tannin structure. It rounds-off the rough edges of the wine’s flavor. This gives the wine a more mellow character.

Both of these processes can dramatically alter the character of the wine. The operative word here is “can”. Sometimes allowing a wine to breathe can cause just as much damage as it can help. In some cases, it may make no difference at all.

For example, older wines that have fully aged tend not to do to well when allowed to breathe. Their tannin structure is more fragile and more susceptible to collapsing. This will cause the wine to take on a flat or flabby character.

The better wine candidate is a younger, red wine. One with a lot of body and tannin, but has not yet had enough time to take fully advantage of aging. This brings us back to the Cabernet Sauvignon you made: a lot of tannic structure with layers of flavors waiting to be developed.

To sum up, allowing your wines to breathe is something I suggest you experiment with, but you don’t need to let your wine sit out all night. It’s not necessary. A half hour is the maximum amount of time I would recommend. And, don’t automatically allow all wines time to breath, only do so with fuller-bodied, red wines that can still use some aging.

Happy Winemaking,
Ed Kraus
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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

10 thoughts on “Why Allowing Your Homemade Wines To Breathe Is Important…

  1. This is my first year making wine. I used Alicante grapes. I started the second fermentation around 4 weeks ago. I now wanted to rack the wine. Before I started, I took a Hydrometer reading. The Specific Gravity was just below 1.0. I then decided to take a taste. The taste was pretty harsh. I realize the process is not complete , but I’m a little concerned. What do you think?

  2. Mike, harsh is what’s to be expected at this stage of the game… especially with Alicante grapes. One of the thing many beginning winemakers learn unexpectedly is that aging has an incredible amount of influence on a wine’s flavor profile, particularly in the first 3 to 6 months. Give it time and you will be surprised.

  3. My wife and I have been making wine for about 6 years. We both enjoy wines that have a "buttery" taste-red & white. What can we do to our homemade wines to get that same taste? Is it the type of wine that’s important -or a certain process/addition that’s needed?

  4. Harry, buttery wines are mostly associated with French Chardonnys, but can be evident in other wines. The buttery is actually diacetyl, the result of a malo-lactic fermentation, also known as MLF. This is an extra step that is done to the wine after fermentation and before bottling. An MLF culture is normally added to the wine at this stage to start the MLF. I would suggest that you read a great article on our website on the subject titled: "Malolactic Fermentation" http://www.eckraus.com/wine-making-malolactic-fermentation

  5. Does anybody have an opinion of wine aerators? A device that wine is poured thru with hole or venturi to basically inject air as it is poured into the glass. Vinturi is a brand.

    • The best way is to use a barrel. Like 15 gal size.. leave in barrel.24-3o months. Keep so2 at 25-30 ppm or 1/4 teaspoon every 5-6 months..rack wine out every 6 months. Clean the barrel with oxiclean and water 2 days..rinse.. then citrus acid 2 days rinse, then so2,…kills bacteria,. Then put wine back in.get a so2 tester. Most imp thing I can tell you..the higher the ph the more so2..also keep the barrel topped off at all times.. oxygen is the enemy.. no free airspace. If not extra wine..use argon gas to chase out oxygen..after 24 months your wine will be ready for bottling..be well terry

  6. Ed,

    We learned from KGO Channel 7’s Mike Finney (Consumer Advocate) in San Franciso to put a young bottle of red wine with intense/heavy flavors in a blender for about 30 seconds (initially with the top on to catch spills and then off to maximize contact with air and oxidation). It works amazingly well to mellow such a wine out and we highly recommend it.

  7. I have seen such equipment in Australia and found it does change the taste of wine. The point is to know when to use it and when not.

  8. I was told by a high-end sommelier a few years ago that when opening a good red for an evening meal I should pour the wine into a carafe in the morning, swirl it a couple of times, and then pour it back into the bottle and replace the cork. This was supposed to add just enough air to perfectly balance the wine through the day. It seems to work.

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