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Jul 12, 2008 12:57 PM

Opening Wine in Advance

I sometimes read on Chowhound, or other boards, or am told by a wine shop clerk, that a particular wine (usually a "big" one - a bordeaux, a brunello, etc.) needs to be opened a while before drinking - to "breathe" for an hour or so, etc.

How do people normally do that ? Do you simply open the bottle and let it sit out ? I would think the small opening at the top of the bottle would not be very helpful. Are they suggesting you decant ? Do you pour your glass an hour early ? I've never done this before (don't usually buy wines that require it), and am curious.

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  1. depends, most of the time, opening the bottle will be sufficient; for some wines, putting it in a decanter will do it; never pour it in glasses in advance.

    It depends on the wine, depend on how long you want to open the bottle before serving, ...

    For example, I just got a bottle of "Cabernet franc Dare Napa Valley Californie 2004" and the guy at the store told me to open it and decant it for something like 1/2 hour to an hour before serving.

    1. Just pulling the cork, and letting the wine "breathe" through the small surface area in the neck of the bottle won't do any good. People generally mean that the wine will be poured into a decanter. If you don't have a decanter, use a water pitcher. Lacking anything "big" like that, you can pour a glass and let the wine in both the glass and the bottle (which now has more surface area) aerate.

      The more difficult task is controlling temperature when aerating. There's a likelihood that wines will become too warm aerating at room temperature for hours. So, if you're truly hardcore about wine, it may be prudent to have an ice bucket for chilling from time to time.

      1. Just pop the cork. More often than not it helps the wines. I had an Ameztoi Rubentis (a Basque rose) absolutely singing by pulling the cork and letting it breath for 90 minutes. I saw it needed this by reading notes on CellarTracker!
        Be careful. I had a 1993 Chianti I was preparing for my birthday dinner a couple of years ago. I opened the cork the night before and checked in with it twice over the course of a few hours and it kept improving by being open. So I left it open. The next morning it was pretty much devoid of flavor. That was my mistake bottle and I've never left wine open too long since then.
        It helps just about every wine that isn't aged. I don't own a decanter, by the way. I just open the bottles and let them breathe.
        It's desirable to do this for really old wines, by the way. Decanting them can be too violent.

        1. I don't generally like the way wine oxidizes in the glass.

          Some wines (Brunellos, Burgundies) I open and do not decant -- I find that decanting can harm some of the aromatics of these wines.

          Other wines -- relatively young CA Cabs, Bordeaux, Rhones I decant.

          VERY young wines -- wines I'm afraid may be more open now, then they will close down only to re-emerge 7+ years later -- IF I don't just pop and pour, what I will do is open the wine, take a small taste to make sure it isn't damaged, then immediately shove the cork back in... then drink the next day.

          1 Reply
          1. re: whiner

            Depending on the wine, I'm with you. I often decant my big whites (called caraffing, not really decanting), but monitor. Same for most reds. If I need to remove the wine from the sediment, then I definitely decant, but monitor the wine's evolution. It is this evolution, that I enjoy, and then declare that the wine is ready for pouring. Some guests might have liked it with less time, but if I'm the host, I get to make that call.


          2. >> How do people normally do that ?

            You don't need Ph.D. to do it. Just uncork the bottle and let it sit. You can stare at it if you want ...