From the moment that a bottle of wine is opened and the wine is exposed to oxygen, it begins to change. This process is referred to as “breathing”. The technical term for the change that occurs in the wine when it is exposed to air is oxidation. If you have ever cut an apple in
From the moment that a bottle of wine is opened and the wine is exposed to oxygen, it begins to change. This process is referred to as “breathing”. The technical term for the change that occurs in the wine when it is exposed to air is oxidation.
If you have ever cut an apple in half and left it out on the kitchen counter for a while, you may have noticed that it begins to turn brown. This is evidence of oxidation. Much the same way that metal oxidizes and turns to rust, fruit oxidizes and changes chemically. If you have had the opportunity to taste the apple when it is first cut open and then again once it has oxidized you would notice that the apple tastes different. I find that after a short oxidation period (maybe an hour or so), the apple will appear to taste sweeter and have lower acidity. If the apple started out too tart or acidic, the breathing period may make the apple taste better due to the lower level of acidity. If the apple started out ripe and sweet to begin with, the breathing period may not be necessary and may actually result in degradation in quality. The exact same principals apply to wines with regard to their tannin, acidity, and “fruitiness”.
The amount of time it may be necessary for a wine to breathe in order to reach its peak depends on the varietal, age and complexity of a particular wine, and perhaps most important, your personal preferences. Oxygen can soften the tannin and help tight, closed wines develop their fruit flavor and balance in a relatively short period of time. Breathing can shorten the ageing process to hours instead of years. If a wine gets too much oxygen, it will fatigue and the fruit will dissipate. Wines that are older will often be more sensitive to the breathing process (i.e. the fruit will dissipate quicker in older wines as they breathe). So the trick to letting wine breathe is finding the balance between softening of tannin and dissipation of fruit.
Of course there is an alternative, let the wine breathe in the glass! Pour the wine in your glass when it is first opened, taste it, wait a while, taste it again, and repeat. You should notice changes in the wine as it continues to breathe.
The breathing process can be sped up by decanting the wine or simply by swirling it in the glass.
Unfortunately, most wines do not come with instructions on whether or not to let the wine breathe prior to serving and for how long. Fortunately most modern, moderately priced wines are ready to drink right away and require very little, if any breathing time.
The mantra of real estate buyers everywhere — “location, location, location” — is almost as important for wine buyers. While certain foods and beverages carry a general notation of their origin, like Idaho potatoes and Sumatra coffee, wine can narrow the notion down to the precise plot of land where the grapes grew. Governments in
The mantra of real estate buyers everywhere — “location, location, location” — is almost as important for wine buyers. While certain foods and beverages carry a general notation of their origin, like Idaho potatoes and Sumatra coffee, wine can narrow the notion down to the precise plot of land where the grapes grew.
Governments in virtually all winemaking countries have made it illegal to cheat consumers by putting misleading information about a wine’s origin on a label. They needed to, because a minority of dishonest winemakers is constantly tempted to make more money by tricking the consumer. They make a wine from inexpensive grapes grown in a low-quality growing region, and then pass it off as something pedigreed and expensive.
Most wine producers are honest, of course, but it’s still important to know what you’re buying. Look carefully at the wine label to learn at least the minimum. The front label of most U.S. wines usually carries the name of the grape variety along with an appellation (place name), which refers to the legally defined American Viticulture Area (AVA) in which the grapes were grown. In general, the more specific the appellation, the better you can
Here’s what the most common terms on American-made wines mean:
California: If a wine label says “California” on the front it means the grapes could have been grown anywhere up and down this gigantic state. In effect it often indicates that a high percentage of the wine comes from cheaper Central Valley grapes that make less concentrated, less interesting wines.
Coastal: Be careful with this increasingly popular term. Many of the wines are great values, but “Coastal” is not an AVA and doesn’t mean a thing, legally.
Counties, valleys: Specific terms such as Napa Valley, Sonoma County and Willamette Valley are almost always a good sign. They mean that at least 85 percent of the wine was made from grapes grown there.
Towns, districts: If you see a town name like Oakville or a district name like Carneros it means even more specialization, better odds for high quality and an inevitably higher price.
Vineyard designations: The individual property where the grapes came from, like Sangiacomo Vineyard or Bien Nacido Vineyard, is the finest geographical distinction a winery can put on a bottle. This is usually a good sign of quality and a chance to experience what the French call terroir, the taste of a place.
Estate bottled: Another good sign of quality. It means that the wine was made from grapes grown in vineyards owned (or leased for the long term) by the winery itself, not grown by an independent farmer or another winery.
Produced and bottled by: This is one of the best phrases to see in fine print on a label. It means that the winery itself actually crushed the grapes, fermented the juice and put the wine into bottles. The only thing better in this regard is “grown, produced and bottled by,” which is basically the same as estate bottled. Other phrases, such as “vinted and bottled by” and “cellared and bottled by” can mean the winery bought the wine from another vintner, maybe blended it and aged it a bit — maybe not — then bottled it.