How and Why We Swirl Wine

Learn about the effects of swirling wine and how it can make your next glass even better

Swirling wine in glass

Some of the best things about wine are intangible. You remember the settings of a great meal where you first tasted a transcendent Pinot Noir. Maybe you remember sharing a bottle of wine under the Eiffel tower with someone special, lazily swirling the wine in your glass and quietly contemplating life and love. 

Wine swirling is a habit that many of us pick up, but it is also practical. There's a reason you see so many sommeliers swirling their glasses at wine tastings. Swirling a wine glass causes rapid aeration which releases more of a wine's aroma. 

The tasting experience is dominated by our ability to assess a wine for different flavors and textures. By swirling we can closely assess the color of the wine, we can see the texture of how it moves in the glass, and we can release different aromas in a glass of wine that were hidden before. Swirling is not just affectation, it's a practical act that wine drinkers can use to enhance every glass of wine they taste.


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The Scientific Effects of Swirling Wine

The science behind swirling is pretty simple. As wine moves up the sides of the glass it is agitated along the edges and is infused with more oxygen. This allows the wine "open up" or breathe releasing various volatile aroma compounds (good flavors) or bad flavors that need time to dissipate after the wine is opened. Our sense of taste is largely precipitated on our olfactory senses (sense of smell). 

So no matter what type of wine you are drinking, swirling will help you access more aroma compounds. Even some styles of sparkling wine can do with aerating, as the process blows off some of the reductive notes. 

As wine is exposed to more and more oxygen over time the aromas begin to fade. Oxygen is a double-edged sword in the wine world. It's necessary for flavor development and parts of fermentation, but if you have too much it can oxidize and turn your wine to vinegar. That's why winemakers are incredibly careful to control the amounts of oxygen that reach their wines during the winemaking process.

How to Swirl Wine

Swirling a glass of wine confidently will eventually be second nature, but if you need to know how to swirl a wine today all it takes is a little practice. 

First find a flat surface and a stemmed wine glass. Set the foot of the glass down on the surface and fill the glass 1/4th full, maybe even less. The reason to keep your glass so lightly filled is that it makes it easier to swirl and aerate. Less wine in the glass means that more is coming into contact with oxygen when you swirl it. If you fill the glass too full you will not only spill, but you won't be able to effectively aerate which will dull the bouquet. 

Once you have wine in your glass move it in little circles keeping the foot of the glass on the flat surface. Control the motion without your wine coming all the way up the sides of the glass. The bigger the bowl of the glass the easier it will be to swirl. Practice this controlled circular motion until you get the feeling for it. 

Then you can lift your glass off the table and try it in the air. Pretty soon you'll be swirling with the best of them and see that your wine tastes that much better!

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FEATURED ARTICLES

Petit Verdot
Chianti (Sangiovese)
Sparkling Wine
Sauvignon Blanc
Sauternes
Riesling

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