Are you a sexy wine swirler? Are you a clumsy wine slosher? Do you even swirl bro? Does it even matter if you do? The act of swirling can be seen everywhere in the wine world, whether you are in that world or merely observing it. In the documentary Somm we see students of the court of master sommeliers sniffing and swirling like lunatics, trying the catch every aroma, while in movies like Sideways we see Miles attempting to teach his best friend Jack how to assess a wine where swirling is involved. In the real world, you get a good sense of who’s who out of the characters mentioned above at wine tastings on vineyards tours. In any given tasting room there will one or more of them.
So to swirl or nor to swirl? That is the question. The answer lies in the spirit of enjoying wine without pretense. There aren’t rules, just guidelines. You could never swirl a glass of wine and still take pleasure in every sip. But swirling does have its advantages.
Whether you are drinking a young wine or an older vintage, that wine has been sitting in a closed environment for a certain period of time, actively interacting with itself. When you pop the cork or crack that bottle open oxygen rushes in and begins to break the wine down until it eventually turns to vinegar. Imagine slicing an apple in half and leaving it out for a few hours – when you come back to it you notice some brown spots. That is oxygen soaking into the fruit and starting to decompose it. The same thing happens with wine. We are essentially enjoying a product that is steadily being destroyed by nature. WHOA! Intense! But the beauty of this path of destruction is all of the wonderful aromas and textures that we glean from the wine as it dies. WHOA! Cool!
Oxygen is wine’s enemy and our friend. Sure, oxygen helps a bit during the wine making process as well as during the aging process but that is mostly for our benefit, not the wine’s. So when you pour wine into a glass, encouraging oxygen exposure expedites its decomposition allowing us to breath in all those wonderful aromas as it breaks down.
Not swirling a glass of wine just slows this process a bit. When we do swirl – or simply agitate the wine – that frenemy oxygen is working its way into the wine more quickly, soaking itself into all the organic material called phenols. While this is happening, alcohol is evaporating and ascending out of the glass bringing with it these little compounds called esters that just ride the alcoholic wave toward your nose to mingle with your olfactory senses and make you say things like blueberry or asparagus.
See the advantage there? Nature is saying, YO give it a swirl, slosh it around a bit and see what I can do.
But what if you think you’re not a sexy swirler but a clumsy slosher? All good. We can see by the science of this little act not matter how you agitate the wine. If you want to get the sexiness down just start practicing every time you pour yourself a glass. Try to use a wine glass that has a decent wide bowl, and fill the glass about a third of the way. Put the glass on a flat surface and with your thumb and forefinger grab the stem and start making little circles. In the words of Jimmy Eat World, “It just takes some time.”
After a while you’ll be swirling like a pro and eventually you’ll be able to take that glass off the flat surface and create beautiful wine waves in the glass while swirling it through the air. allowing the wine to cascade down the inner walls of the glass in thin layers ,encouraging the alcohol to evaporate at a more rapid pace and enjoying more of the aromas. A fun little experiment is to pour the wine and sniff it before swirling, taking note of the aromas, then giving it a swirl and see if it changes at all. You will be amazed at the results.
So swirl away my friends! Swirl away!