After you have observed the coloration of the wine, the next step in the wine tasting process is swirling the wine to get a better sense of its aroma. The swirling motion helps to agitate the wine, thereby unlocking its full aroma potential. Since the sense of smell is so powerful, it plays a very important role in the way that we enjoy wine. Thus, understanding the aroma profile of a wine will go a long way in informing what we are about to experience.
There are two classic ways to agitate a wine. The first method is the preferred method and consists of simply swirling the wine glass on a flat table surface in front of you. With the bottom of the glass firmly secured on the table, make several small circular motions. Generally speaking, it’s better to hold the wine glass close to the base while making these motions. Smaller, tighter circles of the glass are better because these motions will minimize the risk of any wine spilling over the side of the glass.
The second method to agitate a wine is what you may see in a Hollywood movie – a wine critic picks the wine glass up from the table, and then makes several dramatic circular motions with the glass, employing a casual flick of the wrist each time. Not only does this increase the risk of spilling some of the wine, but also it dramatically overstates the amount of motion that is required to “unlock” a wine.
The act of swirling a wine is really just a process of getting more oxygen into the wine, with the understanding that this enhanced oxygenation is what helps to “open up” a wine. The more a wine opens up, the more it will give off pleasant aromas and soften. That is why you may notice that a second glass of wine from the same bottle of uncorked wine tastes better than the first glass – the wine has had more time to open up, simply due to contact with the surrounding air.
While adding oxygen to the wine is good in the immediate short-term, it is not good for the overall taste and flavor of a wine over the next few days. Too much oxygen will oxidize the wine, turning it flat or bitter. Too much time exposed to oxygen, in fact, will actually ruin the wine. That’s one big reason why re-corking an opened expensive bottle of wine and putting into the refrigerator for later is never a good idea – you are risking a significant loss of flavor and aroma. Of course, this is not as big of an issue with, say, a $10 bottle of wine.
It is possible to practice the swirling motion of a wine glass during a tasting. The best way to practice is simply pouring water into a wine glass and trying out different techniques, for about 5-10 seconds at a time. The advantage of using water, of course, is that spillage is never a major concern, and you don’t have to worry about any wine stains on your clothing.
Once you’ve mastered the art of swirling a wine, it’s time to learn how to smell a wine and take in its full aroma potential. After a few seconds of swirling, the wine should already be opened up, giving you a great chance to experience the wine as the original winemakers wanted it to be experienced.