Wine Words Demystified: Breathe

You know the deal, the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus – Wine Words Demystified!

This week’s word is breathe (a.k.a “aeration”)

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

The process of intentionally exposing wine to oxygen to “open up” and soften it…as when a young wine is poured into a carafe or a decanter or even just swirled in the glass

There are two primary situations to let a wine “breathe”  The first is part of the wine tasting process when you swirl the wine in the glass.  Swirling the wine in the glass draws air into the wine.  The mixture of the air and wine releases and intensifies (opens up) the aromas of the wine.  Thereby allowing you to make a preliminary judgment about the wines aromas.  Which is likely a harbinger for how the wine will taste since 80%  of what we taste is attributable to what we smell.

The second reason is to “soften” a wine that is too tannic (the presence of tannic acid in the wine creates the perception of sandpaper on your tongue).  The air reacts with the tannic acid can soften, or mellow the wine so the perception of tannins is lessened.

Mostly red wines need to “breathe” to improve (though some white wines may also benefit from breathing), especially young wines that tend to be more tannic like Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Nebbiolo.


  1. I like your descriptions of the reasons for a wine to breath. They are clear and help out alot–but do want to point out that Ms. MacNeil confuses two items –a decanter (to decant, deal with sediment in an old wine) and a carafe (to allow wine to breath. Decanters are for older wines. We don’t want them exposed to oxygen. They have reached their maturity and the tannins are already “softened”. Decanters have small necks/mouths, so that the wine does not get over exposed to oxygen. Carafes, have large mouths and the goal of pouring a wine into a carafe is so that more of it is exposed to oxygen –so they tend to be wide and open– not narrow like decanters.
    The reason reds age better than whites is that they have tannins, something found in the skin of the grape. Whites do not — which is why they typically can’t age as long –I fully agree with you that allowing whites to breath is something that might enhance the wine.

    1. Thanks for your comment. You’re right about the difference between aerating a wine and decanting a wine. I’m afraid the terms are used interchangeably today, but they shouldn’t be…

      Thanks for following!

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