After observing and noting the color of the wine, the next step in the process is to swirl the wine. This is about more than just looking sophisticated to your non-wine drinking friends – it is primarily about “opening up” the wine and unlocking its full aroma profile. The physical act of swirling a wine is more formally known as “agitating” a wine so that it reveals its full range of characteristics.
There are three primary ways that you can swirl a glass of wine, ranging from subdued to refined and grandiose. The classic, subdued method of swirling a wine consists of lightly gripping the stem of the wine glass, and while maintaining full contact of the bottom of the glass with the table (or other flat surface), gently moving it in small mini-circles. Just a few seconds of this will help to agitate the wine.
A more refined and sophisticated way of swirling a wine consists of picking up the glass of wine with a supple wrist, and then gently flicking your wrist to and fro, before returning the wine glass to the table. Finally, there is the method of swirling a glass of wine that you’ve probably seen in the Hollywood movies – it consists of a bit of showmanship, in which you are moving your arms in dramatic ways, and not just flicking your wrist. Without a lot of experience doing this, however, you can start to appreciate why it is not the technique for beginners: it can very easily lead to violent sloshing of the wine rather than gentle agitation.
Why the act of swirling is so important
For new wine drinkers, the whole act of swirling can seem to be exactly that – an act. But there is actually a good scientific reason why swirling a glass of wine is so important, and why it can aid so much in wine enjoyment. The swirling motion helps to get more oxygen from the surrounding air to interact with the wine, thereby “opening up” the wine. It’s the reason why the second glass of wine from a bottle can often taste softer and mellower than the first glass – in the time between glasses, air has had time to interact with the contents of the wine bottle.
The “opening up” of a wine will help to unlock all of its aromas. A big caveat here, of course, is that too much exposure to the oxygen in the air can be a bad thing. If you leave a glass of wine to sit out overnight, for example, the oxygen will “oxidize” the wine and ruin it.
Practice makes perfect
One of the best ways to practice the art of swirling a glass of wine is with a wine glass filled with water. There is a slight difference in the viscosity of a glass of wine and a glass of water (due to the alcohol present in the wine), but they are similar enough that you can start to see exactly how much pressure you should be applying when you agitate the glass. Plus, since you are using water, there will not be any concerns about sloshing the contents of the glass, and thereby ruining either your tablecloth or your clothing.
Once you’ve perfected the art of swirling a glass of wine, it’s time to move on to the next important phase of enjoying a glass of wine: smelling it.