Why do people swirl their wine? Hint: it’s not just to look cool…
We have all seen it, the illustrious swirl of beautiful red wine in the glass, that dervish liquid velvet, the sultry sway. Perhaps you have even attempted it; maybe you have mastered it, or you have not. You cling to the stem of your glass and hope this time the swirl works in your favor, as you try and impress your friends, but alas, it piddles over in a cacophony of rogue swill on the table, your shirt, and surrounding floor. You have failed, and cursed off the swirl forever as being a motive of only the elite and pretentious. Sound familiar? Why swirl that wine in the first place? Can’t people just drink it and stop with their swirl-crazy antics?
Swirling the wine does 2 main things – and neither of those things are for show.
Swirling wine releases aromas and nuances that you would not have been able to detect without some aeration. When wine is subject to centrifugal force in the glass, it is releasing the aromas or the “bouquet” of the wine, and making it taste better. Wine, as poured directly from the bottle, is “tight” on the nose, and needs to loosen-up.
Think about going to a party where you don’t know anyone and feeling like a wallflower. Perhaps you feel more sociable over time, or perhaps you resort to shot of whiskey; either way, it can take a little coaxing to get you out of your shell.
Wine needs to be “warmed up to the party”, it needs a little – or a lot – of air. To experiment with the differences, try pouring about a third of a glass of wine, and take a sniff without aeration or swirling. Next, swirl by maintaining your hand on the base of the glass and moving the base on a surface in a rapid, tight-circular motion. Do this once for about 5-10 seconds and then take another sniff. You will have noticed that the aromas are much more intensified, and now you should be able to smell flavor characteristics with much more ease.
The other reason to swirl wine is less for the average wine drinker, and perhaps reserved for a wine enthusiast or sommelier.
Wine is swirled to see the legs! “Legs” are referring to the residue left on the glass after the swirl has settled and wine trickles around the glass in viscous harmony. Do they move slow or fast…are they thick or thin? Also called tearing, or staining, the legs of the wine tell a few things:
Alcohol content: viticulture (the science and art of winemaking) tells us that the hotter the climate, the more alcohol there could be in the wine due to ripening levels and sugar content of the grapes.
How full-bodied the wine is: The more viscous the wine appears by swirling in the glass, the fuller the body or weightier the wine will feel in your mouth. Most deducing what wine is in a blind tasting is achieved through smelling, and seeing the wine, NOT by sipping.
If a wine has very little staining in the glass, most likely the wine is lower in alcohol, light-bodied, and possibly came from a cooler climate.