There’s Nothing Like A Breath of Fresh Air

By Celia Strong

So, I hate to tell you this, but we’re not going to get to talk about just wine this week. For sure there’ll be some wine, a favorite of mind; but I have to tell you about an experience I had in the last couple of weeks, with wine, but with something more involved too. And, it’s the something more that is really important. In all honesty, I never thought this week’s topic would ever come up. Ever. And, I did subject myself (and others, so you don’t have to believe just me) to a bit of research before bringing to you. But, if you’re willing to do the research (which involves drinking), I promise you will come out on the good end of things.

To start the story. I opened a bottle of a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon one night. (Yes, the name will follow shortly). Not a new wine for me, or some of you. That first night I only had a couple of smaller size glasses, so half the bottle was left. On the sixth night after it was opened, I was able to get back to it and pour myself the third glass from that same bottle. OMG! OMG!! OMG!!!

After those six nights, and after the extra air got into the bottle with the pouring of the first two glasses, the wine became so much better. I immediately sent an email to the winery about how good the wine was and what a shame it is that we drink wines as soon as we buy them. And, then, as we are all prone to do as we drink, I started pondering how can we get wines to be this great everyday? Buy them and save them for several years under strict conditions? Sure, that’s one way. But who wants to plan their Friday night bottle weeks, months or years before? Can’t do that! Plan on Monday what we’re going to feel like on Friday night and open the bottle ahead of time so it can develop in its bottle. Sure, a second option, but I can’t do that. And I suspect neither can you. And, who wants to even try?

So, I’m sipping my great wine thinking, and “flash,” I have an answer. What if you could do to the wine, on your time, on your schedule, what it did to itself, on its own, in the open bottle? For sure this makes sense and, still for sure, there must be some way to do it. And you know? There is. OMG! OMG!! OMG!!!

Let’s back up for a quick moment and understand why wine can be helped to taste better by letting some air get at it. This can be called letting the wine “breathe” or “aerating” the wine. And, the mixing of the wine with air can be done several ways. The main purpose of the process, however it’s done, is to oxidize the wine. Oxidizing wine can take place in a sealed bottle as it ages. Despite the seal, and I guess we’re talking about cork seals, some air does seep into the bottle. That air mingles with the wine and bonds with molecules of the wine to change textures mostly and some of the flavors. As the wine sits in its unopened bottle, we say it is aging and maturing. Hence, the new textures and flavors are those of a more mature wine. And, as we look at these new aspects, we get to decide how we best like a particular wine to taste and feel in our mouths. (In the case of bottles with screwtop closures, this seepage of air into the bottle is basically impossible. That means, if we like a wine a bit more mature, we have to be able to help it age). The main characteristics of an aged wine, or an aerated one, are smoother textures and more open flavors. In the case of red wines, it is mostly the tannins (the harsh, astringent texture on the back of your teeth) that bond with the oxygen and become smoother feeling. Then, that smoother feeling let’s your mouth better perceive the flavors. Some flavors even that were totally not noticeable in the un-aerated wine. Some white wines also benefit from breathing. Their acids bond with air molecules and the wines become smoother textured also. And more flavorful.

The are several techniques to mix air with our wine. One is to decant (pour the wine from its bottle into a second container), where the wine bonds with molecules of air as it poured into a decanter. This particular method also lets you leave any sediment in the wine behind in the bottle. (Sediment does settle out of wines, mostly reds, mostly heavier styles, as they sit and age in their bottles). I guess the drawbacks to decanting are you have to do the whole bottle, it involves more dishwashing after you finish and takes a bit of time. A second way to aerate, or breathe, a wine is in your glass. A much easier method, but also much less air gets incorporated into your wine. On the positive side for this method, each drinker can do as much aerating as they like. On the negative side, because you get less air this way, you can end up getting less wine than your fellow drinkers because you’re spending more time swirling your glass. I’m guessing no one wants less wine. Especially if you’re making it taste better on purpose. The latest way to aerate wine is with one of the wine toys that have become available for the last several years. These are actually called “aerators.” So clever. They are used as a wine is poured. And, depending on style, can put used in the neck of the bottle or over each individual glass. Over each glass, allows each person do, or not do, their own. Already a positive. There are several brands and prices of this kind of aerator. Some more moderate in the amount of air they mix with the wine. Some with more gurgle noise as you pour. (Don’t mistake the noise for an upset tummy. It’s similar.) And, some you have to hold onto the whole time you’re pouring…some that just rest on each glass as you pour.

This individual, one glass at a time, seems to get the job done with the least effort, the quickest; and, each drinker can use it as they please. You can even taste a sip of the wine without air immediately after a second sip with air and fill your glass as you like it.

So, let’s see if I can get a new bottle to taste as good as if it had been “breathing” for six days. My wine is Terra Valentine Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, at $22.99. A good test also because Cabernet has so many tannins. This wine has been a personal favorite for a long time, so the first taste without aerating is fine. But, yes, the tannins are noticeable, and the flavors are a bit tight. I do taste dark fruits, though, blackberry, black cherry, cassis, and coffee grounds, a hint of herbal/medicinal something. There are layers of flavors and textures, a good sign. My fellow tasters agreed – tannins, good flavors but tight. Second glass, same size and shape glass to be fair, with the wine poured through an aerator. Immediately, we notice the wine is smoother feeling. Actually, if I thought I could get away with it, I’d say it even smelled smoother. Much smoother in our mouths and way more flavors and stronger, more noticeable flavors. We all thought it was a better bottle. It was definitely much closer to the six day “breathed” bottle, without having to plan six days ahead. Thank goodness, drinking can still be spontaneous. More good news? Our aerator was only $5.99. Yes, a cheap toy. But cheap enough to try playing with and seeing what it does for any wine. Red or white. $10, $20, $30, however much. Whenever. And more good news? I think when you play, you get to drink. A breath of fresh air. OMG! Enjoy.

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