Enjoying wine is one of the simple pleasures in life: you just open, pour, sip, and enjoy.
When we consider the pleasure of savouring our favourite beverage it’s not just about drinking, like eating is not only about swallowing. Really tasting wine has a few critical steps that allow to sublimate the experience, and just as importantly, understand what’s in your glass. And yes… swirling is one of them.
Wine tasting has three main phases, each using one of your senses: sight, smell, and taste. In terms of timing, swirling sits in between step one, which is sight, the visual observation of the wine, and step two, which is smell, the perception of the scents of the wine through your nose. At the same time, swirling the wine actually is an integral part of all three phases of the tasting
Swirling gives you time to better observe the wine’s appearance
Colour: The colour of a wine gives a simple, yet important, indication of what you’re about to drink. For that very reason, winemakers pay very careful attention to the colour of the wine they make, in order to make sure it corresponds to the drinkers’ expected style. So generally speaking, the colour of a wine corresponds to its style consider the colours below:
- A dark red wine is likely to be fuller bodied, richer, and more tannic than a pale pinkish one
- A pale yellow wine will generally display more subtle and lighter aromas than a golden-to-brownish one
- An intensely-pink rosé is expected to be fruitier than a more floral, pale pink or salmon-coloured one
When you swirl the wine this allows you see the colour better. As the wine spins and goes up the sides of the glass, it forms a colour gradient you can easily observe the hues of.
Legs and viscosity: In addition, the way the wine swirls gives you a first indication of its viscosity; the “texture” of the wine. A dense wine, full of tannins or sugar will tend to spin more slowly around the vessel, sticking to the sides of the glass.
When you stop agitating, the wine then forms legs or ‘tears’. Those are formed by alcohol, sugar, and glycerol (a compound in wine with an oily texture). The thicker the legs, the sweeter or more alcoholic you can expect the wine to be.
So swirling dramatically improves the visual observations you can make on the wine. This mentally prepares you to the next phases of the tasting by anticipating what the style will be. Generally, no one tastes well and appreciates a beverage if the sweetness, fizziness, or acidity are not expected and surprise you.
Even more importantly, swirling buys you time to observe, enjoy, share with others your impressions around the wine, and learn before even tasting.
Swirling reveals the aromas of the wine in your glass
When swirling, the aromas concentrate in the glass above the surface of the wine much more than if you don’t agitate. When you stop swirling, stick your nose into the glass. That’s when the maximum amount of aromas will be revealed, so you can smell all the subtle nuances and fragrances.
Even at room temperature, alcohol still evaporates off the wine because its boiling temperature is lower than the water’s. Because alcohol is a solvent, it lifts aromas into the air and makes them available to your nose.
This phenomenon also explains why the shape of a wine glass is so important. Depending how wide or narrow the glass’ opening is, aromas are allowed to concentrate in the glass, or escape out of it. Powerfully aromatic wines need bigger glasses with wider openings than subtle shy ones.
Swirling aerates the wine and improves the taste
Agitating wine in the glass increases the surface of contact with the air, and creates little bubbles in the wine. Air is full of oxygen that dissolves quicker in the wine if you swirl.
Oxygen reacts with the aromas in the wine, generally making them more pungent, fresher, and fruitier. In addition, aeration tends to temper oaky and herbaceous notes that are often not the most interesting and appreciated ones in wine. This leaves room for everything else to shine.
The whole tasting experience becomes more varied and more complex, with plenty of different flavours revealed. Simply said, the wine just tastes a little bit better when you swirl.
How to swirl wine?
Really there is no secret about how to swirl wine. There is no formal academic way of doing it either. So considering the benefits of this practice as detailed above, there is no reason to be shy about it.
It is entirely up to you to find your own style, the one that makes you feel comfortable with how you taste, and how you look. Adopt the classy nonchalant style, or the nervous speedy one! Just find yours. In reality, most people are somewhere in between.
‘Proper’ and ‘pro’-looking swirling is achieved by holding the stem of the glass, with a gentle and controlled spin of the wrist. Don’t hold the whole bowl of the glass in your hand as this warms up the wine too quickly. Unless that’s what you’re trying to do, of course.
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