Why Do We Swirl?

“Why do we swirl wine?”

So you are sitting in a nice restaurant, and you see the couple at the table next to you swirling their wine around, smelling it, then sipping it. Why do they go through all those “preliminary steps” before tasting the wine? Sure, they look cool, but is it really necessary?

The answer is “yes!” And I’ll tell you why.


Remember the last time you had a head cold, and your nose was all stuffed up? Do you remember how food tasted bland, since you couldn’t smell it? Well, that’s because 70 – 75% of what we taste comes from our sense of smell! Our taste buds are not as abundant as our “smell buds” (olfactory receptor cells).

Try this, just for fun: hold your nose and take a sip of wine. Note how it tastes. Now stick your nose into the wine glass, sniff deeply, then take a sip. You should notice a big difference in flavor.

Now let’s take it to the next level. Try this: hold the glass of wine still, sniff deeply, and take a sip. Note how it tastes. Now swirl the wine around in the glass vigorously (more on this coming up), sniff deeply, and take a sip. You should notice a more intense, fuller flavor. This is because swirling the wine around “opens it up.”

When wine is introduced to air, the layers of compounds that define the wine’s flavor are released. The more undesirable compounds evaporate more quickly than the desirable ones, and thus the wine tastes better!

As a rule of thumb, all red wines (especially Pinot Noir) will taste better if swirled before drinking, although very few white wines will. It is very important to serve your red wines in glasses large enough to allow  you to swirl the wine without sloshing it over the edge! (Quite an embarrassing faux pas, especially on a first date!)

The safest way to swirl without making a mess is to set the glass down on the table, grab it by the stem, and rotate it around in small circles. Do not fill the glass more than a third of the way, so there is room for the wine to “spread out” up the sides.

How much swirling is recommended? If the wine is being poured straight out of a just-opened bottle, I would recommend at least 10 seconds of swirling. If the wine has been decanted or poured through an aerator, just a few swirls should suffice.

So go ahead and swirl – you’ll enjoy your wine more, and you’ll look SO COOL!

Beverly Hurley

Wine Factor













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