Why Allowing Your Homemade Wines To Breathe Is Important…

Man Allowing Wine To BreatheI made my first wine and it came out great. I made a Cabernet Sauvignon from one of your homemade wine kits. I started it in January and aged it with oak chips for 6 month. Then bottled. It still tastes a little young. Something I do not understand is that it taste better after I let it sit out for a few hours. Why does it improve when left out?
Jason
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Hello Jason,

Thanks for the great question! I believe you have stumbled upon something that is, in large part, ignored by most home wine makers. What we are talking about is allowing the wine to breathe.

It is important to understand what is meant when we say breath in this context. We are not talking about taking breaths as a living thing would, but rather, we are talking about decanting the wine and allowing it to react to the air. The wine is being freed from the suffocating confines of a wine bottle and cork.

To let the wine breathe the bottle is normally poured into a carafe. The wine is simply allowed time to sit. But unlike the hours you mentioned, the wine only needs to be given maybe 10 or 15 minutes when using a carafe. If you are just popping the cork from the wine bottle the effect will take longer and not be quite as dramatic. Using a carafe significantly cuts down how long you need to let the wine breathe.

When allowing a wine to breathe some chemistry takes place. First, fumes release from the wine. Any off, volatile gases that may have built up while in the wine bottle are given the time to release and dissipate. Also, the natural bouquet or aroma of the wine is also allowed time to develop and blossom.

The second process is the wine starts a subtle, oxidative exchange with the air. This reduces the harshness of the wine’s tannin structure. It rounds-off the rough edges of the wine’s flavor. This gives the wine a more mellow character.

Both of these processes can dramatically alter the character of the wine. The operative word here is “can”. Sometimes allowing a wine to breathe can cause just as much damage as it can help. In some cases, it may make no difference at all.

For example, older wines that have fully aged tend not to do to well when allowed to breathe. Their tannin structure is more fragile and more susceptible to collapsing. This will cause the wine to take on a flat or flabby character.

The better wine candidate is a younger, red wine. One with a lot of body and tannin, but has not yet had enough time to take fully advantage of aging. This brings us back to the Cabernet Sauvignon you made: a lot of tannic structure with layers of flavors waiting to be developed.

To sum up, allowing your wines to breathe is something I suggest you experiment with, but you don’t need to let your wine sit out all night. It’s not necessary. A half hour is the maximum amount of time I would recommend. And, don’t automatically allow all wines time to breath, only do so with fuller-bodied, red wines that can still use some aging.

Happy Winemaking,
Ed Kraus
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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

19 thoughts on “Why Allowing Your Homemade Wines To Breathe Is Important…

  1. This is my first year making wine. I used Alicante grapes. I started the second fermentation around 4 weeks ago. I now wanted to rack the wine. Before I started, I took a Hydrometer reading. The Specific Gravity was just below 1.0. I then decided to take a taste. The taste was pretty harsh. I realize the process is not complete , but I’m a little concerned. What do you think?

    • My wife & I are first timers here…making a lot of mistakes I think…

      1) We used a carboy for our first primary fermenter. Making a Merlot, from a kit by “Wine Expert”. Not a lot of directions. SG was 1.111. I also used an airlock. After about 10 days the fermentation slowed way down. Also, I didn’t leave enough head space, and the first night the airlock blew off and I probably lost a lot of yeast and wood chips.
      2) Day 13 there was almost zero activity and I racked into a clean carboy. SG was 0.998. There was quite a bit of yeast, etc. at the bottom of the carboy. It’s hard to taste the alcohol, pretty dry, and a little bitter. I put the airlock on the second carboy and let it sit overnight.
      3) Day 14, the airlock bubbles every 5 minutes. The taste is a little better. The SG is 0.995. So, from the online research, I have 116 point difference. Some might say this is 11.6% ABV or some divide the 116 by 7.4 = 15.6% ABV%. Which is the correct reading?
      4) Is this going to turn out OK, or can I salvage with sugar and/or yeast? Should I put in a bucket and start over with more sugar and/or yeast? Or, can I leave in the 2nd carboy with airlock and just wait another few days. Take the airlock off and replace with a towel? This is in a basement, at approx. 72 degrees and very dark.
      Thx!

      • Your calculations are correct. The ABV is 15.6%. I strongly recommend that you continue on with the directions as provide. The flavor of the wine has little to do with how it will end up. Between now and after aging, the wine is going to change a lot… for the better. Stay the course and the wine will be fine.

  2. Mike, harsh is what’s to be expected at this stage of the game… especially with Alicante grapes. One of the thing many beginning winemakers learn unexpectedly is that aging has an incredible amount of influence on a wine’s flavor profile, particularly in the first 3 to 6 months. Give it time and you will be surprised.

  3. My wife and I have been making wine for about 6 years. We both enjoy wines that have a "buttery" taste-red & white. What can we do to our homemade wines to get that same taste? Is it the type of wine that’s important -or a certain process/addition that’s needed?

  4. Harry, buttery wines are mostly associated with French Chardonnys, but can be evident in other wines. The buttery is actually diacetyl, the result of a malo-lactic fermentation, also known as MLF. This is an extra step that is done to the wine after fermentation and before bottling. An MLF culture is normally added to the wine at this stage to start the MLF. I would suggest that you read a great article on our website on the subject titled: "Malolactic Fermentation" http://www.eckraus.com/wine-making-malolactic-fermentation

  5. Does anybody have an opinion of wine aerators? A device that wine is poured thru with hole or venturi to basically inject air as it is poured into the glass. Vinturi is a brand.

    • The best way is to use a barrel. Like 15 gal size.. leave in barrel.24-3o months. Keep so2 at 25-30 ppm or 1/4 teaspoon every 5-6 months..rack wine out every 6 months. Clean the barrel with oxiclean and water 2 days..rinse.. then citrus acid 2 days rinse, then so2,…kills bacteria,. Then put wine back in.get a so2 tester. Most imp thing I can tell you..the higher the ph the more so2..also keep the barrel topped off at all times.. oxygen is the enemy.. no free airspace. If not extra wine..use argon gas to chase out oxygen..after 24 months your wine will be ready for bottling..be well terry

  6. Ed,

    We learned from KGO Channel 7’s Mike Finney (Consumer Advocate) in San Franciso to put a young bottle of red wine with intense/heavy flavors in a blender for about 30 seconds (initially with the top on to catch spills and then off to maximize contact with air and oxidation). It works amazingly well to mellow such a wine out and we highly recommend it.

  7. I have seen such equipment in Australia and found it does change the taste of wine. The point is to know when to use it and when not.

  8. I was told by a high-end sommelier a few years ago that when opening a good red for an evening meal I should pour the wine into a carafe in the morning, swirl it a couple of times, and then pour it back into the bottle and replace the cork. This was supposed to add just enough air to perfectly balance the wine through the day. It seems to work.

  9. I recently co-fermented a 6 gallon Sangiovese kit with a 1 gallon Cabernet Sauvignon kit. I used the yeast packet and other additives from the Sangiovese kit only. I otherwise did not vary the instructions on the kit. When I racked the wine from the fermenter to the carboy, I degassed the wine as instructed with my electric drill. I racked the wine again after about a month and aged it on oak spirals. When I tasted the wine from time to time while it was aging, it seemed to have a sort of fizziness and a sharpness upon first taste, which would quickly dissapate. Thinking that I had not properly degassed the wine, I degassed it again with my drill, this time for approximately 10 minutes. During the aging, I added the recommended amounts of potassium metabisulfite. When I bottled the wine, I thought that I had the problem solved but when I recently opened a bottle, I had the same issue — initial fizziness and harsh taste that quickly dissipated, after which the wine tasted very good. Any ideas on what caused the initial fizziness and the harsh taste?

  10. I know this sounds kind of silly, but I’d actually never considered decanting my homemade wines. There are some that even age hasn’t improved very much, so maybe this would help.

  11. Is there any place in homemade wine making for one-gallon wide mouth jars. I bought a half-dozen and with lids for the water seal while the wine ages. Now, it seems that carboys would be more appropriate since the air headspace is substantially reduced. Am I right?

  12. Try this… put your young or “off” wine in a blender, put the lid on ( to avoid splashing out) and blend it on low for about 5-10 seconds. You will likely be amazed at how much better it tastes. Note all the air bubbles briefly in intimate contact with the wine. Try it

  13. i ttok a pasteurized 1.2 gal of apple juice squeezed from the farm last november. added a cambden tablet then after 24 hours added the recipe for apple wine. i added 2 lbs sugar then the yeast. after two days nothing seems to be happening. the initial pH was 3.28 and S.G. was 1.080 tested the S.G after 2 days it is 1.140. help!

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