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To Swirl or Not To Swirl
Copyright 2001 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed December 10, 2001. For more information go to

Do you swirl before you sniff? Many of us who enjoy wine swirl our glasses so habitually that we automatically do it whether we're drinking wine or iced tea or chocolate milk.

The idea behind swirling is simple and sensible: Rocking and turning your glass so the wine spins up and coats the sides is a good way to "open up" the wine's aromas. The thin coating of wine that you've spun onto the inside walls of the glass evaporates rapidly, releasing volatile aromas. Insert nose, sniff, and you can enjoy much of what the wine has to offer before you take the first taste.

This is so much a part of the wine-tasting tradition that it's customary to fill wine glasses less than half full, leaving plenty of room to slosh and sniff.

But many experts now advise that you sniff before you swirl, particularly you're taking a taste to approve the wine before it's poured.

According to Ralph Hersom, the sommelier at Le Cirque 2000 in New York City, (quoted in a recent article in Wine Enthusiast magazine), because swirling accentuates the appealing volatile aromas in wine, it may briefly cloak the unpleasant musty stench of a wine afflicted by a bad natural cork, perhaps persuading you to accept a wine that should have been rejected.

Even when the wine is sound, many experts say, smelling the wine both before and after swirling is one more way to enhance your enjoyment, as you compare the difference in aroma before and after. You'll find that some wines don't change much with swirling, while others gain an altered personality. Like a lot of other wine- tasting tricks, it's not mandatory to spend time with this. Like most other hobby interests, you don't HAVE to analyze your wine in order to enjoy it. But if this kind of thing appeals to you, try it next time you pull a cork. Pour the wine, sniff it, then swirl before you sniff again, and see whether you can detect a difference.


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