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Give It a Swirl

Swirling, just like structure, legs and inexplicably expensive Oregonian Pinot Noir, is one of those wine things that we all take for granted. And when brains start turning off, this cork dork starts turning on. Wait, let me start that thought over again.

“No need, Steve, really. Just tell me, why do we even bother?”

Oh, dear reader, I really have missed your uncalled-for yet plot-advancing interjections. This is a pretty simple concept, but I’m going to draw it out for the sake of word count and gags. We all good with that? Great.

So the only reason we drink wine is because it tastes, great right? (Hint: the correct answer is “yes” if you don’t want to spend the next several hours in a tearful intervention.) Well, when we taste anything, we know that our tongue does only the basics: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. The rest, the really fun stuff, like the delicate hint of dumpster fire in that glass of Uncle Boomshanker’s Reserve Dornfelder, is purely olfactory in nature. This arises from a number of different volatile compounds formed from myriad chemical reactions between the constituent bits of grape juice as it ferments and ages. Fun stuff like esters (not to be confused with Aunt Esthers), Methoxypyrazine, and all of that femininity, sensuality and terroir you keep hearing so much about.

Now when it comes to the actual act of swirling, there is actually some really complicated fluid-dynamic-y stuff happening. This is better explained by people who didn’t spend college bouncing between hangovers and Shakespeare, so check out this cool video and try not go get too hung up over the fact that someone looked at that grant application and thought “Hmm. Good stuff here.” All of that turbulent oscillation causes volatile compounds to evaporate (or “aerosolize” if you want to be that guy) and fill your glass with an absurdly complex combination of aromas that, utilizing your mastery of our robust language, you will then go on to describe as “good.” Without these, you are only getting a fraction of the experience that a good glass of vino is supposed to provide.

Though this should be a fairly simple operation, you may find yourself fraught with fear, anxiety and crippling self-doubt. Whoa there. Calm down, reader, take my hand, and let me guide you through your swirly-type questions:

Do you swirl sparkling wine? I find this one to be circumstantial. Champagne flutes are shaped the way that they are in order to promote the propagation of bubbles. The bubbles themselves act as a means by which to convey those volatile compounds upward and onward toward your sniff-holes, so many believe that swirling isn’t necessary. In fact, the act of swirling will agitate the wine into releasing even more of its inherent CO2 causing it to go flat faster than a Ricky Gervais set in a leukemia ward. Granted, if you’re power-tasting and not fixated on making that glass last, I don’t think anybody will take away your wine license if you do.

How do I do it without spilling? Honestly, a legitimate question! Let’s start with the basics: Take your glass and set it down on the table. Place your index and middle fingers down on the base on either side of the stem, like you’re gently reassuring the glass not to attempt taking flight. From there just start sliding the base in a circle on a table. Relax, you’re not going to scrape anything, but so long as the level of the wine is at or below the widest point in the glass, you should keep your shirt and surroundings wine-free no matter how enthusiastic you get with your swirlage. The table keeps the stem upright, and your Hermes smoking jacket Old Navy fleece clean.

Can I still observe the volatile aromas after I have spilled the wine anyway? No. You should be ashamed of yourself. Get out of my study.

Does it matter which way I swirl the wine? You’re kidding right?

No, seriously, I read that if you swirl wine clockwise you get the oak aromas and that if you- No, no, this stops right here, right now. I have had to deal with some silly, pseudoscience nonsense on the internet in my time, but this is BY FAR the most absurd thing I’ve ever encountered when it comes to grape juice. I’m not going to dignify this crazy talk by mentioning the “logic” behind it. But if you ever happen to encounter someone who espouses this particular line of lunacy, I would highly recommend just pretending to be a house cat, or a pillowcase, or a family of foreign tourists, and politely pretend to not understand anything that person is saying.

Now go! Swirl, sniff, enjoy, and damn the consequences!

Have questions about other seemingly mundane or esoteric wine topics that you’d like to see me waste 800 words on? Leave me some ammo in the comments and I’ll happily use it to destroy what’s left of my credibility. IT’S GOOD TO BE BACK!

 

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