Why Do We Swirl Wine?

Friday, 12 February, 2016
Julien Miquel, Vivino
Enjoying wine is one of the simplest things in the world: open, pour, sip, and enjoy.

In contrast, for example, the handling of a fork and a knife for eating, as a child, takes more practice. That said, making the most of our favorite beverage is not just about drinking, like eating is not only about swallowing. Wine tasting has a few critical steps that allow to sublimate the experience, and just as importantly, understand what’s in your glass. Swirling is one of them.

Why Do We Swirl Wine?

Wine tasting has three main phases, each using one of your senses: sight, smell, and taste. In terms of timing, swirling sits in between step one, which is sight, the visual observation of the wine, and step two, which is smell, the perception of the scents of the wine through your nose.

Swirling the wine actually has a favorable impact on all three phases of the tasting:

Swirling gives you time to better observe the wine's appearance

Color: The color of a wine gives a simple yet important indication of what you're about to drink. For that very reason, winemakers do pay a very careful attention to the color of the wine they make, in order to control it and make sure it corresponds to the drinkers' expected style. So generally speaking, the color of a wine corresponds to its style.

Let's take a simple example in each color:

  • A dark red wine is likely to be fuller bodied, richer, and more tannic than a pale pinkish one
  • A pale yellow wine will generally display more subtle and lighter aromas than a golden-to-brownish one
  • An intensely-pink rosé is expected to be fruitier than a more floral, pale pink or salmon-colored one

Swirling the wine allows you to simply see the color better. As the wine spins and goes up the sides of the glass, it forms a color gradient you can easily observe the hues of, through the wine.

Legs and viscosity: In addition, the way the wine swirls gives you a first indication of its thickness or viscosity; its texture if you wish. A dense wine, full of tannins or sugar will tend to spin more slowly around the vessel, sticking to the sides of the glass.

When you stop agitating, the wine then forms legs or 'tears'. Those are formed by alcohol, sugar, and glycerol (a compound in wine with an oily texture). The thicker the legs, the sweeter or more alcoholic you can expect the wine to be.


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