It may look cool. But it also serves a purpose. Swirling is an essential part of any wine tasting session, and will also improve the smells and flavour of your wine while drinking at home.
It’s all about getting some oxygen into your wine. Oxygen can be the enemy of wine while it is being stored; too much in the bottle and the wine will become over oxidised and could go off, too little and it can taste meaty!
But once you’ve poured yourself a glass, oxygen becomes wine’s friend. As soon as the wine is released from the bottle, it begins to break down, or ‘open up’.
As the wine opens, it softens and its aromas become more obvious. By swirling, you’ll bring oxygen into the wine so you can smell and taste it at its best. That’s why wine glasses have a bowl shape.
Everyone has their own technique when it comes to swirling wine. The proper way to do it is to hold your glass by its stem and move the glass in a small, steady circle. Your wine should move up the sides of your glass, stopping a centimetre or two from the top. The little droplets you get falling back down the side of your glass are called tears or legs of wine. You’ll find higher alcohol wines collect more droplets on the side of your glass and sweeter wines, because they are usually more viscous, take longer to flow back down into the bowl.
Really it doesn’t matter too much how you swirl as long as you get some oxygen in there. Some people prefer to leave the base of their wine glass on the table and push the bottom of the glass around in small circles. Some swirl subtly, some make a huge show of swirling.
However you do it, once you’ve swirled, you can move onto the most enjoyable aspects of wine drinking; the smelling and the tasting.
One of the reasons to swirl is that the wine’s aromas are allowed to rise from the glass. As soon as you have swirled, place your nose over the glass and see what you can catch in its bouquet. Every wine has its own unique aroma. You may catch hints of blackcurrants, vanilla, oak, chocolate, lemons or tobacco, for instance, which may not have been possible to smell without a swirl.
If you’re at a wine tasting, you may find you’re advised to smell it three separate times, each time drawing your nose away from the glass. This is to see whether you can detect any new aromas as the wine is exposed to more oxygen. In a Rioja, for example, you might start to smell nuances of cherries and blackberries before the bouquet develops to include cinnamon and tobacco. Or with a Chardonnay, you may get pineapples, peaches and figs before beeswax and crème brulee.
For sure, the smell of wine is delicious, but the swirling and the smelling are really just the entrees and the starters, with tasting being the main course. Swirling will have brought oxygen into your drink so you can fully appreciate all of the flavours wine producers have worked so hard to bottle.