Why do people swirl wine?
People swirl wine for a range of reasons; to see its colour, understand its texture before they taste it, check the quality of the wine, and aerate it and release its aromas before they drink.
Colour: Drinking wine is a whole-body experience, and we consume it with our eyes before our mouths. This is why wine glasses are clear and that crystal is often utilised in fine stemware - to allow better the light to pass through the liquid displaying its beautiful jewel tones. When you swirl the wine in the glass, you can clearly see the gradient of colour and get an idea of how rich the wine will be while you anticipate its flavour. The lighter the wine’s colour, the lighter the flavour and the deeper the colour, the richer and more tannic it will most likely be.
Texture and viscosity: When you swirl the wine, you can clearly see how viscous or thick, it is. The liquid will move slower in fortified wines like Port, than a crisp Sauvignon Blanc as the more sugars and tannins a wine contains, the thicker it will be. You will also notice that once you have swirled your wine it will leave clear “legs” running down the sides of the glass. These “legs” are made up of the alcohol and glycerol in the wine and indicate how much alcohol the wine contains. The more “legs” a wine has, the higher the alcohol content.
Quality: Swirling wine can act as a form of quality control. This way, you can clearly see if the colour is not in line with what you would expect of your chosen drop; brown tones can indicate a wine has soured. And noticing any unexpected effervescence and bubbles in an otherwise still wine can suggest it has gone bad.
Aeration: When you swirl the wine, you expose it to the air and allow its aroma to be released. Swirling wine also breaks the surface tension of the liquid in the glass, releasing the wine’s volatile compounds. Volatiles are the compounds within the wine that evaporate once the wine is aerated and fill the glass with the rich aroma of the wine. Wines with spicy profiles and intense tannins like the 2018 BVWC Stockyard Shiraz can benefit greatly from a quick swirl to deliver on their intense flavours and display their rich dark colour.
How to Swirl Wine
While there is no right or wrong to swirling wine, there is a definite art to it which comes only with practice. You can swirl wine as much or as little as you want, however, the initial swirl before you drink should sufficiently oxygenate your beverage and increase its flavour. The right swirl can appear sophisticated, allow you to glean all you want to know about your wine before you taste it and done correctly, leave you with clean attire at the end.
How to swirl wine like a pro
The right swirl can help you get the best out of your wine and make you feel like a true professional wine drinker and is a strangely pleasing pursuit. Before you know it you’ll be swirling dishwater in your wine glass as you wash up after dinner.
Do: Pour the right amount. Don’t: Overfill your glass.
The first step to a good swirl is pouring the correct amount of wine into your glass. The trick is to fill your glass to the widest part of the bowl, this will give you enough room to get the fluid up onto the sides of the glass without spilling any over the rim. The ideal glasses for swirling are larger bowled glasses, giving the wine enough room to aerate and diminishing the possibility of spilling. Suppose you are swirling a medium-bodied wine like Barossa Valley Wine Company’s Gravel Track Shiraz and are using a “standard” red wine glass. In that case, the smaller bowl will make it easier to spill, so it’s better to underfill than overfill your glass.
Do: Use a stable surface when starting out. Don’t: Place your glass on a sticky table.
If you’re just learning to swirl wine, the best way to approach it is to place your wine glass on a solid, smooth and clean surface. Pinching the stem with your thumb and as many fingers as comfortable, make small circles on the hard surface with the base of the wine glass. This should lift the fluid up and into the light.
Do: Swirl the right type of wine. Don’t: Swirl sparkling wine.
Swirling is beneficial for most wines, however, when it comes to sparkling wines it may be more trouble than it’s worth as agitating already carbonated beverages can cause them to foam and spill over the sides of the glass. Swirling a sparkling wine too, will release its fizz prematurely and leave you with a flat beverage.
Do: Practice with water at home. Don’t: Take it too seriously.
A more “expert” wine swirler will be able to lift their glass off the table and hold it to the light, swirling it with an elegant flick of the wrist. This can appear to be a simple gesture, but may take a little practice to get it down pat. But just look at practicing your wine swirling as a great reason to drink more wine.