Oxygen is the frenemy of wine. Initially, it is the element that causes a wine to “open up,” and start really showing off its aromas and flavors. However, the longer a wine is exposed to oxygen, the more it will slowly turn into vinegar. So, why do we want a wine to “breathe?”
When a wine first comes out of the bottle, it isn’t showing all it has to offer. Contact with oxygen is what allows a wine to really show off its stuff. You can allow a wine to breathe in several ways, whether you choose to decant it, or allow the wine poured from the bottle to simply open up in your glass — this is why we swirl. The one way you really won’t be allowing a wine to breathe, though you may think you are, is by simply popping the cork and letting the bottle sit on the counter. So little of the wine’s surface area comes in contact with oxygen when you pop the cork and let the bottle sit that it doesn’t make much of an impact. It’s like breathing through a straw; you get a little oxygen, but not the full amount you need.
In wine’s initial contact with oxygen, it’s beneficial to the wine instead of destructive. This improves our drinking experience.