Optimal time to let wine breathe without decanting?

I had some pours at a restaurant and theirs were so much better than the bottles I ended up buying - I assume that comes down to temperature and time. Should I open up a young red like four hours before next time? I don’t want to decant. Also, should I put the cork back on?

Why not?


Good luck!

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Ah man I’m confused, I can’t understand it. So many times a wine has opened up with time, and changed, done a symphonic dance of introducing new themes. But I realize not every perhaps does.

It’s a question as complicated as wine itself. Different answers for different wines, different ages of wine, slow versus fast aeration, and a dozen other things.

Then it’s highly subjective whether the difference after long aeration is better or worse.

One thing that will help some times is to go into Cellartracker.com, search the wine and vintage, and see if people in recent years have commented on how long they decanted and whether they thought it helped, hurt, wasn’t long enough, etc.

Someone is rushing to their keyboard to retort that you don’t know who is writing that and what they know or what they like. True, but it still helps some of the time.

Mostly just experiment and see what you like. Open the bottle early, pour into a decanter or just leave open, try at various points along the way, see what the changes are and what stages you like better.

Learn what Kai likes better.


For me, the by far best option if you have the possibility, is to open the bottle 3-4 hours in advance have a small pour and taste whether you think the wine is ready or not. If it is, pop the cork back in and nothing will happen during those 3-4 hours. If not, decant it - depending on how tight it is you might want to decant it for only 1-2 hours (thus waiting a couple of hours until you do the decant).

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You know what they say when you assume…

Then there is the correlation is not causation thing…

Mostly, what you are likely experiencing given restaurant versus home, is the emotional aspect of being in a different headspace. The anticipation of going to the restaurant. Knowing they do the wine and the food well. Getting a recommended glass of something. Enjoying in the heady atmosphere of all the swells enjoying the choice restaurant. Your company is having a good time. The anticipation of the dishes. The experience of the dishes. Feeling good making that wine cozy on up to your senses even better.

Contrast that with popping a bottle at home, focusing on if it matches up to cost and reputation. It’s not the same head space.

Maybe it was about temperature and time open. Maybe not. But that’s quite easy to test by simply leaving it open for a while and seeing if you like it better later.

For the broader question you are asking there are many variables to apply about how much time a wine might need open for it to be at it’s best. The big ones are age, grape, region and winemaking. So asking about a two year old great growth Bordeaux is going to likely have a very different decanting consensus than a ten year old Central California Chardonnay. That is, if you can find a consensus.

All that is to say there is no easy, simple answer to your top line question.


Brilliant post, my friend.

On the part I quoted, I think of that when folks rhapsodize about the table wines on their travels in Europe. And I have no disdain for those at all, but how much of the positive reaction is what’s in the glass, versus being on vacation, relaxed, rested, happy, in a beautiful place, eating great food.

Try that same carafe of wine standing at your kitchen counter on a Tuesday. Very different reaction.


Opening a bottle of wine several hours before drinking is never wrong - as far a I m c - and usually for the benefit, but early decanting, especially double dec, can be problematic - so taste before doing it -

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Lots of wisdom here on what is a very individual preference. Sometimes I find that the last glass of a particular bottle is the best (to me). If that is the case, and I have a second bottle of the same wine I would try to replicate that duration of opening beforedrinking. If it is consistent then I would take it as an indicator that decanting and or aging the bottle may be a viable option.


Figure out what works for you. My typical process when not decanting- I pop the cork and pour off a small glass, enough to drop the wine level in the bottle beneath the neck and shoulder which exposes more wine surface area to air. Leave the cork out.
As a general rule, I give lighter wines 30 mins, heavier wines 60 mins. Younger, heavy wines get 120 mins.
High acid, leaner wines I prefer below room temp so I might leave them in the cellar or cycle them in and out of the fridge to keep them cooler while they’re getting air. Lower acid, rounder wines I’m usually fine coming up to room temp.

About the “myth of letting wine breathe” thread Anton posted- it’s a 1,000 post debate/rabbit hole. Based on my advice above you can infer my opinion.

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Some wonderful advice here, that may not give a definitive ‘answer’, but is far more useful than someone insisting on a golden formula.

I’ll echo the comment by Chris, that following the wine ‘in the glass’ over an hour or two can be insightful, albeit I used to find I paid more attention when tasting a wine at the start of a tasting, then returning to it at the end 1-2 hours later. Still not very scientific, as the effect of other wines changes our perception, but it is a good period of time to actually see changes.

One other thought I don’t recall seeing mentioned, and mainly (but absolutely not exclusively) a thing with older red wines, is ‘bottle stink’. All sorts of weird and wonderful (and less than wonderful) aromas may jump out a freshly uncorked bottle. If it’s a bit too funky on opening, give it a few minutes to ‘blow off’. Conversely in really old wines, some of the most haunting aromas can be quite fleeting. Hence bringing us back to the golden rule… it depends!

I almost mentioned a variation on this. I have a rule I sometimes don’t follow- don’t taste a wine in the first 5 mins after opening. Too many weird smells that blow off that mess with an initial taste and impression.

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If these were BTG pours, I typically ask them how long the bottle has been open. If it’s been a couple of hours and it’s drinking really well, I will know that I want to allow some air to my bottle. However, just opening the bottle X hours beforehand isn’t going to replicate the restaurant experience.

They have poured glass(es) out of the bottle and then it’s sat, which provides much more air to the wine than just opening the cork. So this is typically why for a young wine, to give it air, one would double decant back into the bottle and then let it rest for a couple of hours. That introduces enough oxygen into the bottle to allow it to do its work.

I would not bother paying much attention to that thread. None of the wine people I know and trust believe that oxygen doesn’t improve almost every wine.

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I will often “test” a bottle by pouring a small taste using my Coravin hours before I plan to consume. I’ll swirl it around in the glass or let it sit for a minute, smell and then taste.
If I like how it tastes I will open it when I’m ready to drink.

If it seems tannic (acidic) or is one-dimensional (tight), it likely needs to be decanted or needs more time in the cellar. If it tastes spoiled (corked) I return it to the store or winery. In my experience, the majority of retailers and producers will stand behind their product and try to make it right. If I determine it needs air, I will filter it to remove any sediment as I pour it into a decanter. I will then taste it periodically to see if it’s to my liking.

As others have mentioned, it’s not a science. Keep in mind oxygen can breathe life into wine allowing it to open but it will eventually break it down to something undrinkable. Every experience is an experiment to some degree. There are a number of variables, including the producer, vineyard (terrior) and vintage. There is also bottle variation that can be mind-boggling.

Another tip for tasting is paying attention to the finish. If it’s long there’s a good chance the wine has potential to age and improve. If it’s short it typically will not. Again, not a science.

Just like most skills, the more you practice and learn about wine, the better your results will be.

Good luck!

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This. What he said.

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Unfortunately, you’ll get as many answers as posters lol. My own response is:

  1. just opening the bottle and letting it sit (even if you pour out a bit to taste) does nothing.

  2. very few wines don’t benefit from air. You’ll rarely make a mistake decanting, double decanting (back into the bottle), or just pouring a glass early, swirling and tasting every now and then.


With very young bottles I may aerate upon opening (I like a vinturi aerator). For old bottles it makes sense to decant for sediment. No question wines change in the glass - but also be very cognizant of the temperature of the wine. Sometimes I think it has more to do with the temperature than the aeration.

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I hesitate to jump into this conversation because I know it makes people very stimulated. I would like to provide a little context for why there’s not an easy answer to this question and then try to provide one.

As soon as you open a bottle of wine you change the environment of the wine in two important ways - exposure to oxygen and exposure to an atmosphere that can carry away aromas that evaporate off the wine surface. This change initiates a vast array of chemical processes that begin and continue to happen at various speeds. These processes are very slow if you just open the bottle, but are significantly expedited if you pour out some wine and especially if you decant or double decant it (the latter two have more or less the same degree of impact). The reason there is no easy answer to your question is that every wine differs both in how it responds and in how quickly it responds to this change in environment. This is true both from wine to wine but also from bottle to bottle of the same wine.

So there’s a lot of variability in wines, which leads to a lot of variability in experience and, therefore, opinions. The second important reason that this is such a tricky topic is that people have different sensitivities to different aroma compounds, including aroma compounds that make other aromas seem muted. People also have differing sensitivities to, and perceptions of, taste sensations like bitterness and the ever-elusive concept of “body” or “fullness”, which also contribute to your perception of how open or pleasant a wine is.

So a single bottle will literally “open up” differently for different people.

In other words: don’t take anyone’s word or experience as gospel. I liked Chris Seiber’s answer a lot. Try things out and see what you like. I’ll add a couple general pointers to hopefully ease your mind and simplify your journey:

  • Don’t worry too much about whether you recork it or not. Unless you’re planning on keeping it for multiple days, there’s no need to.
  • If you aren’t going to decant, do pour out a good taste’s worth to get some fresh air into the bottle. As Alan was saying, just opening a bottle won’t do very much very quickly, though it will do something.
  • Don’t worry too much about opening bottles too early - they’ll be fine, especially if you aren’t decanting. I have had so many partial bottles of wine taken from tasting rooms at the end of the day and they’ve almost always been in good shape, even the whites. Maybe don’t splash decant a young Sauvignon Blanc and leave it for 6 hours…

I decant every wine.

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