We always hear wine experts and connoisseurs talking about letting their wine “breathe”. What does this mean? Is there an actual benefit to letting oxygen dynamically change your wine? Let’s explore the question, why aerate?
There is scientific reasoning behind the aeration of wine. When wine is bottled and aged it is corked and oxygen is prevented from entering further into the bottle and changing the particular structure of the wine. The vinegar, spoiled flavors you taste after drinking an uncorked bottle of wine after several days is the product of oxidation. The air has gotten to the wine and compromised its flavors and its vitality. Over time oxygen will flatten out the compounds of wine changing its flavors and ultimately spoiling the wine completely. However, upon uncorking a bottle there are instant benefits to allowing your wine to "breathe".
Wine is a complex beverage produced through the fermentation of grapes, grape seeds, stems, and skins. The outcome of this process is a very structured liquid comprised of hundreds of compounds. Exposing wine to air begins the natural process of oxidation and evaporation of particular compounds. Due to the nature of science, the radical and a volatile compounds are the first to be disrupted and eliminated from the wine. This is the reason as to why a freshly uncorked bottle of red will waft strong ethanol scents after immediate release. With time these compounds dissipate allowing the true and intended aromas and flavors of the wine to be discovered.
The most volatile compounds and less desirable wine characteristics are sulfites, sulfides, and ethanol. Sulfites are added to wine to prevent oxidation throughout the life of the wine. Sulfides are naturally occurring in wines through the fermentation process of the grapes. They are the culprits behind the "rotten-egg" smell found in particular wines briefly after uncorking. Sulfites are also naturally occurring in wines, to some extent, however most wine makers add sulfites to prevent wine from spoiling during their bottling process. Wines boasting the label "No additional Sulfites" are the vineyards who don't add additional sulfites but naturally occurring sulfites are still present. Finally, ethanol a very volatile compound is naturally present in wine. Once aerated the ethanol is broken down and begins to evaporate ridding your wine of that stark rubbling alcohol aromas. Aeration is greatly beneficial for the reduction of ethanol.
Elimination of the bad “stuff” isn’t the only reason to aerate your wine. Allowing your wine to breathe prior to consumption lets your wine reach its full potential in both flavor and aroma. The oxygen promotes the positive wine attributeswhile minimizing the negative ones. So get out your aerator and start to enjoy your wine at its full potential.
If you liked this article, check out What Wines to Aerate?