What’s With All The Swirling?

We’ve all seen it. Many of us do it without even thinking about it. But why? Is swirling our wine in the glass just a phenomenon that was born from someone who couldn’t sit still? Or is there actually a purpose to it?

If you’ve taken any sort of wine education classes, you’ll know that swirling our wine is a key component to the 5 S’s of Wine Tasting. Its usually talked about in any introductory class or tasting event. Swirling is an integral part of aerating your wine to allow oxygen in and let it breathe or “open up.” Oxygen can do a variety of things to your wine. Including allow its aroma characteristics to become more detectable soften any off-putting aromas that can be products of sulfites or fermentation. And can even help soften harsh tannins making the wine taste smoother.

But wait – isn’t oxygen bad for wine?

The answer is both yes and no. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say that a bottle of wine is “oxidized” and dump the contents of the bottle down the kitchen sink. What a painful site that is to see, trust me – we’ve all been there. Too much exposure to oxygen can leave your wine smelling like vinegar. It’s a similar effect to what happens to an apple if you take a bite and leave it there. Or if you cut into an avocado and don’t use the whole thing – they start to turn brown.

When wine is exposed to oxygen, a series of chemical reactions are triggered that convert ethanol (alcohol) into acetaldehyde. In the simplest terms, it’s like we’re allowing the alcohol to “burn off” and leave behind its aromas and flavors in a more intense way. Leaving your wine out for a few days will result in overoxidation (perfect excuse to just finish the bottle) but not letting your wine breathe is often not letting it live up to its full potential? So what’s a wine lover to do?

Here’s where swirling comes in! As you swirl your wine around in its glass, the wine will become exposed to more and more oxygen, letting the aromas stay behind as the ethanol evaporates. Swirl your wine for several seconds at a time, but be careful not to over-do it – or swirl so much that the wine leaves the glass and lands on your rug!

Swirling a Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

A bottle that I absolutely love to swirl is Carpineto’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva, due to its stunning ruby red hues and deep complexity. When you first pour it in your glass, you get the aromas of cherry and dark fruits. But as you swirl it and allow some of the alcohol to burn off, you start to notice notes of violet, dried herbs, leather and tobacco. Each taste is more explosive than the last, and as you swirl it and take a big inhale, you almost feel like you’re in Tuscany.

I think we can all agree that in addition to the actual scientific purpose behind swirling wine, we all look pretty cool while doing it – and that’s something to celebrate!