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What is the purpose of swirling one’s wine? Hint: it’s not only to appear cool.

By Stocked Cellars on Jul 20, 2022

We have all witnessed the elegant swirl of wine in the glass, the whirling liquid velvet, and the seductive sway. Maybe you’ve tried it, or perhaps you’ve even gotten good at it. Whatever the situation, it’s likely that you can think of a time when you tried this unique manoeuvre and failed severely, letting the wine spill out of the glass and onto the table, you, and the area around you.

Have you sworn off the wine swirl forever? Has your wine-swirling doom been caused by the unprettiness of “splat” that caused such a great embarrassment? Why stir wine in the first place? Is it merely a way to flaunt one’s capacity for efferent power and come out as an elitist snob? Actually, no.

There are a few practical benefits to swirling wine, besides the fact that it looks cool. Directly poured wine has a “tight” aroma and needs to loosen up. A swirled wine reveals scents and nuances that aeration would have prevented you from noticing. Wine tastes better when subjected to efferent force in the glass because aromas are released, and the wine’s “bouquet” is more developed.

Imagine yourself attending a party and feeling awkward since you don’t know anyone. It may take some gentle prodding to get you out of your shell; you may get more gregarious with time, or you may even turn to a shot of whiskey.

Wine must be “warmed up to the party,” which requires some air. Pour roughly a third of a glass of wine and take a sniff without swirling or aerating it to test out the difference. Next, swirl by holding onto the glass base and moving it quickly and tightly around a surface while keeping your hand there. Repeat this for 5 to 10 seconds, and then inhale once more. You’ll have noticed that the scents are considerably more robust, and you should now be able to detect flavour characteristics very quickly. Once you believe your nose has developed a feeling of all the fragrance characteristics, repeat the swirl-smell test. (I found an excellent article on identifying distinct aromas here).

The second purpose of swirling wine is more common among sommeliers and enthusiasts and less important to the typical wine consumer. To observe the legs, wine is swirled! The term “legs” refers to the substance that remains on the glass after the swirl has subsided and the wine has begun to flow around the glass in a viscous symphony. If so, how quickly are they moving? How thick or how thin are they? The wine’s legs—also known as tearing or staining—indicate two things:

1. How robust the wine is: The wine will feel heavier or more full-bodied in your mouth the more viscous it looks when swirled in the glass. In a blind tasting, it is more effective to smell and observe the wine than actually to taste it.

2. According to viticulture, the grape ripening and sugar content level may increase with a hotter environment, leading to greater alcohol in the wine. The viscosity of wines increases with alcohol content.

A good rule of thumb is that if a wine leaves minimal staining in the glass, it is probably light-bodied, low in alcohol, and potentially from a cooler region.

The difference is seen in the following infographic:

What is the purpose of swirling one's wine?
So there you go. Remember that your sense of smell contributes to most of your taste in wine. It is always ideal to begin your first taste of wine with a cautious whiff inside the glass before sipping! Reasons to swirl your wine that aren’t so snobbish.

Have questions about wine? I’d love to answer them in the comments area! Cheers!

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