WS: Breathing of Wine...Fact or Fiction

This is an article that I wrote for WS of BobMorrisey back in the late '70’s.
Not sure if it’s readable or not.
Breath.pdf (632 KB)
Get out the long knives, but be gentle.

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Thanks for sharing. It’s a “the more things change the more they stay the same” piece in my mind - lot of interesting but conflicting evidence.

My favorite conclusion is “The older wines are the ones most likely to benefit from breathing. They are also the ones most likely to suffer from breathing.” At least simple breathing, now generally referred to as “slow-ox” was clearly shown to not be impactful.

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Thanks, Rich. Wasn’t sure that the article would get posted correctly. Looks like it did. Thanks for reading. You’re a fast read!!

I have posted elsewhere about the tastings I conducted after reading the Bespaloff article. I really thought I would prove him wrong, esp with Barolo.
We used three bottles of the same wine, one of which was opened and decanted a day in advance. This was so long go I cannot remember much about it.

This would be a great experiment for somebody with a wine bar to revisit.

Well, Mel… a few yrs later, I repeated the experiment with my SantaFe wine group using Nebbiolos, Barbaresco & Barolo.
I didn’t do the statistics, but essentially the same result.

We went round and round on this topic a while back.

Lots of people believe in letting the wine breathe; very few have tested the hypothesis.

It’s a great theory for wine sales: of course, the first glass is ok but after you’ve had three it will taste great.

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I must ask, Tom, do you PnP most of your wines, slow ox or decant?

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Thanks for sharing, very interesting paper.

Well, Jonathan… almost always PnP.
I only decant if there’s a lot of sediment.
I generally follow a wine for over a day after it’s been opened.
Even if it’s an older Nebbiolo, it’s a PnP.

Time for an Audouze master thread.

Holy Courier full justified batman.

Hard for my eye.

I laugh at the scientists trying to establish some “truth” from chaos. It reminds me of the Japanese attempt to concoct aged first growths from chemical analysis results. There is an answer. One. Answer.


Having done essentially a running study for years and years, drinking wines on the first night after PnP and over a few hours, then generally the next day, and sometimes the 3rd day, there is zero doubt in my mind that most wines change after opening, and most for the better. Now, after a year of weekly group tastings of 4oz bottles, I’ve added some more good data points: most wines benefit from air after opening. And the most interesting data point: most wines are better the next day after having been exposed to a moderate amount of air, even older wines. It’s amazing how most older wines, even 40-50 years old, are better the next day. We’ve tasted on the order of 300-350 wines split into 4oz bottles, and only a handful deteriorated between the first and second days, and most were at least as good, and more often improved the 2nd day.


I’ll give that standard winegeek answer: it depends.

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I can only quote Jonathan Collins Warren MD a surgeon at Mass General on first seeing Ether given as an anesthetic when he stated “Gentlemen. This is no humbug.” The aeration of older wines really brings this forward to me. I recently had a 1985 Drouhin Pommard Epenots served beside a 1995 Leroy Pommard Les Vignots. The Leroy on first opening showed all the density and depth. A beautiful texture but the tannins were a little rough. It didn’t change much with air. The Drouhin showed a little rustic and monolithic on opening but in 45 minutes became the most ethereal beauty you can imagine. A core of red fruit and a nose that was totally captivating. I don’t understand the chemistry. The wine did die a little with time so decanting for long periods or long periods in the glass can make you miss this show. This is even true with younger wines. FWIW.

I’ve done it a number of times. two bottles, hard and early decant for one and pop and pour for one and if there are three, an intermediate. And the people I sprung them on didn’t know what I was doing. They thought they were getting different wines. I did at least an eight hour decant and in one case, overnight. It was a couple years ago.

With a young Chardonnay - big difference. With a young Petit Manseng, big difference. With a Zin, no difference. We did a few others but I don’t have the specific wines at the moment. But what was interesting is that people had definite preferences. They were different people in each case, some wine drinkers, some not.

Then I read about Myrvold’s work and had to try it, so I did a few in a blender. One half of the bottle in the blender, one half unblended, served blind. I figured that if aeration is going to matter, the blender is the way to go.

You need to wait for the foam to dissipate and the blender slightly warms the wine, so you need to put the unblended wine in warm water for a minute while it’s dissipating. Doesn’t take long. When both wines are at the same temp and there are no bubbles, serve them. I poured them into different decanters and had them served by someone who didn’t know which was which so that I could participate as well.

That experiment produced stunning results. With a young Rioja, we couldn’t distinguish. With a young Zin, we couldn’t distinguish. We tried a few other reds, with fairly similar results. A couple of times I would find that the blended wine was ever so slightly smoother, but not consistently.

So I had two take-aways. One, if anything is going to matter, time matters more than the amount of aeration. Two, I’m a crappy taster who can’t tell if a wine is blended.

And those results seem to coincide with Alan Rath’s observations, which is heartening.

most wines are better the next day after having been exposed to a moderate amount of air, even older wines. It’s amazing how most older wines, even 40-50 years old, are better the next day.

I have been doing the 3 day wine review thing for several years and very rarely is a wine worse on day 2. Occasionally day 3. Never understood why so many need to consume the bottle on day 1. Just open two and enjoy over time.

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