Wine Talk

Snooth User: heartsleeve

White Wines - To Breathe or Not to Breathe?

Posted by heartsleeve, Jun 14, 2010.

My cellar consists of 95% red wines, heavy on bordeaux but also a good variety of good Cali Zin, malbecs, cabs and syrahs.

The 5% that white wines occupy are mostly sauv blancs and viogniers (I'm ABC).  My red wines usually get decanted or aerated before serving and the cellar keeps everything at optimum temp - but in all my years of studying and tasting and enjoying wines, I've never read or heard anything about "breathing" a white wine - or needing to.  BUT WHY NOT?  Gregory, do you have a definitive answer?  Anyone?



Reply by amour, Jun 14, 2010.

Kindly ask CathyShore, a Snooth member  who lives in the Loire in France and actually works in the wine trade,  and in the vineyards.  She spoke recently about how much nicer a particular white tasted on the day following  its uncorking.....see what she says...

She is reliable, in my opinion.


Reply by habap, Jun 14, 2010.

I was given two vinturi wine aerators over the holidays - one "for reds" and one "for whites".They're both the same design, but have different accent colors (so that someone will buy two instead of one, thinking there's a difference).

I have tried aerating whites, but generally it hasn't improved them. Since aeration is similar in effect to aging the wine a few years, I think whites might go past their 'drop dead' dates if you decant/aerate them too much....

Reply by GregT, Jun 14, 2010.

". . . aeration is similar in effect to aging the wine a few years . . ."

habap - don't know where that info is from but it's wrong.  Aging and airing have nothing to do with each other.  Aging involves a very complicated series of chemical changes including the breakdown of sugars and polymerization of tannins, neither of which are affected by airing the wine.  What you get from airing is among other things, removal of some volatile compounds and the combination of oxygen with lighter sulfur compounds, making them less volatile.

It's not nearly the same thing.  Also, depending on the winemaking, some wines are really funky and benefit from a little oxygen, both white and red. Some whites age for many years, so I wouldn't worry about the drop dead date, again of course depending on the specific wine.  The issue is really what you want to accomplish.

It really depends on the wine and on your own preferences. 

Reply by habap, Jun 14, 2010.

Thanks for the info, Greg. I was only thinking of oxidation and did not realize the complexity of things going on. I still have much to learn!

Reply by penguinoid, Jun 14, 2010.

I'd have thought it would depend on the wine in question, for one thing. Some Loire Valley white wines improve with being allowed to breathe for a bit - Savennières is often helped by decanting, for example, and I've read it can improve even more if left open for a day or so (though not tried this myself yet). Savennières is an exception, though, I don't think there are many other white wines that you would want to decant.

It's possible some full bodied white wines such as white Burgundy may get some benefit from a small bit of airing (not sure here, though), but more delicate, aromatic white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc probably would not.

If uncertain, I'd always assume it's best not to let it breathe too much, though. If you come across a wine that, once you've tasted it, seems as if it does need to breathe a bit you can always let it breathe a bit in the glass.

Reply by dmcker, Jun 14, 2010.

For sure you want to air whites, IMHO. Length of time depends on the varietal, the vintage (age), and your experience and knowledge in judging such things.

Almost no wine tastes as good right out of the bottle as a half hour (or even several hours) after opening. As Greg so rightfully pointed out, there are often off-odors and funks that will completely evaporate merely during a half-hour breating after the cork has been pulled (and not pushed right back in--what's with tha European custom, anyway?). Almost always no need to decant, though as Penguin has mentioned that can be useful for a Savennières, and even a young Burgundy (or an older one that has thrown sediment).

Unfortunately my experiements have shown that even aggressive decanting will not help a badly balanced chard-bomb from California, or a misguided sauvignon blanc concoction from New Zealand... ;-)


Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jun 15, 2010.

I've had great luck airing my whites. In generally i find that they get more expressive and slightly softer with air, and from that you might surmise that the whites I'm drinking are not soft, buttery Chards or big, explosive Sauv Blancs but rather leaner, fresh wines like Muscadet, Dry(ish) Riesling, minerally Sauvignon and Pinot Blancs.


Heck I even like most of my champagne decanted!


A well made white wine will benefit from air just as a red wine will, providing that the wine has more to offer than a simple explosion of fruit and wood.


Sorry for the evasive answer, but as with evrything wine related it really boils down to what you drink and how you like it!

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