The lovely smell of a wine – citrus, apple, red fruits, spices and so on – is caused by volatile molecules that are released when the wine is poured into a glass. These aromas disappears slowly. When we swirl the glass for too long and too vigorously, we quicken the disappearance of these aromas. Try this for yourself: pour the same wine into two identical glass, swirl one for 2–3 minutes, then compare the nose of the wine with the other that hasn’t been swirled and see which one is more fragrant.
Different aromas have different degrees of volatility. The most delicate aromas can only be detected on the first sniff and without swirling. Having said that, sometimes a wine may be closed, so we are unable to smell anything. In this case, we can swirl to release the aromas.
A great wine is complex and has different layers of aromas. It is a wonderful experience to slowly enjoy the wine and appreciate the development and evolution of the aromas. Swirling the wine can encourage the release of heavier aromas, but remember only to swirl a little and not often. On the other hand, most everyday wines are pleasant but simple. They do not have many different types of aromas, so it‘s best to enjoy them without swirling.
Another misunderstanding involves the tears, or legs, that form when swirling wine – this is the wine that flows slowly back into the glass along the sides. Some consumers think that this is an indication of quality, and they like to vigorously swirl wine to show off the tears. In fact, tears are formed because of the alcohol, sugar level and glycerol content in wine. The higher these are, the thicker and slower the tears flow back into the glass. So tears are simply an indication of a wine‘s alcohol and sugar levels and have nothing to do with quality or price.
So next time you have a glass of wine, make sure you smell first before you swirl!