Scientists investigate some pretty funny stuff – surely you’ve heard about the study that involved putting shrimp on a treadmill? But not all research is frivolous. Take the report from fluid dynamics scientists that asserted that “a gentle circular movement of the glass generates a wave propagating along the glass walls, enhancing oxygenation and mixing.”
That’s right: Science says that swirling wine isn’t some pretentious exercise – it serves a real purpose.
Wine, especially good wine, is teeming with chemical compounds, esters chief among them. These compounds are unleashed – technically speaking, “volatilized” – when the wine is swirled. Whether you judge the aromas to be hints of Hudson cherries and notes of nasturtium, or simply fruit and flowers, you’ll notice and enjoy more of them after swirling.
Swirling does a few other things as well.
With some minor but noticeable wine issues – say, a slightly too-heavy dose of sulfur dioxide that yields the aroma of a struck match, or the “reductive” rotten-egg smell of hydrogen sulfide – swirling can help by blowing off the highly volatile offending compounds. This won’t work for flaws that are profound, or for problems like a corked wine, which will never become “uncorked,” no matter how much you swirl, but there’s no risk in giving it a shot.
Here’s another potential benefit from swirling: Many people believe that swirling a wine in a glass, like aerating a wine by decanting it, will “smooth” hard tannins. Some scientists question whether this added exposure to oxygen can really cause molecular changes so quickly, but tons of wine pros swear it does.
With all these upsides to swirling, we hope we’ve convinced you that it’s not a silly affectation, and you’ll be inspired to swirl away.
If you’ve never swirled before, don’t worry; there’s no “proper” or “improper” way to do it (beyond keeping the wine in the glass).
You can go clockwise or counterclockwise, though in this right-handed world, counterclockwise dominates. You can keep the glass on the table or hold it in the air. You can make tight little circles or big looping ones.
If you’re not confident in your ability to safely swirl in public, practice: Pour some water in a glass, grab it by the stem, and find your swirl. Start on the table, then work your way up. Just do it like this guy. Such easy!
One thing you’ll quickly find out is that it’s a lot easier to swirl if there’s plenty of empty space in your glass, which recalls one our six rules of glassware selection: “You want a pretty big bowl, not so you can fill it up with two-thirds of a bottle of wine, but so a standard, five-ounce pour will leave you plenty of space to swirl, releasing the aromas.”
So what’s stopping you? Pop open a bottle, pour yourself a glass, and swirl, sniff and enjoy!
Click on these links for more insights into the sometimes mysterious ways of wine:
- Making Scents of Wine Color
- Just How Big Is a Serving of Wine, Anyway?
- The Right Temperature for Wine