Wine tasting: swirl, sniff, spit, repeat!
We can’t even pretend on this one… We know it can feel pretty awkward cracking out the swirl, sniff, spit routine at the table. Or look, maybe you don’t… and kudos to your confidence! But there’s something that can feel a bit on the nose about sticking your nose in your glass of wine before you sip it. However, hear us out. It’s not a peacocking symbol of superior wine knowledge (it’s not just that anyway). There is a legitimate purpose to the process, and we’re making it our mission to normalise it more and bring back its charm. So, settle in for a simple class on the three S’s.
Why do we swirl?
Swirling the wine in the glass serves two main purposes:
1. To aerate the wine by allowing oxygen to come into contact with it. This process can help to release the wine's aromas, making them more pronounced and expressive.
2. Swirling coats the inside of the glass with a thin layer of wine, allowing it to evaporate and intensify the aroma.
Wine contains hundreds of volatile arduous compounds which need air so that we can perceive them. Swirling gives the wine the air it needs to activate those aromas.
How to swirl
To swirl wine effectively, gently rotate the glass to agitate the wine inside, carefully swirl the glass using a circular motion. There are also a few other factors to consider in order to get the most out of the swirl action.
Opt for a wine glass with a stem to provide an easier to grasp handle while swirling. Hold the glass by the stem to prevent the heat from your hand warming the wine and contaminating the natural aroma. If you want to stay friends with everyone at the table, maybe don’t announce this interesting info snack; show don’t tell.
Tilt the wine glass slightly, allowing the wine to reach a larger surface area inside the glass. This provides more exposure to air, enhancing the wine's aromas.
To avoid spilling, or if you have difficulty gripping, place the base of the glass on a flat surface or hold it securely by the stem. Use a gentle, controlled motion to swirl the wine in a circular pattern, causing the wine to move around the sides of the glass. Start slowly and gradually increase the speed as you become more comfortable.
Remember, the purpose of swirling is to aerate the wine and release its aromas, so be cautious not to swirl too vigorously. The key is to gently agitate the wine without spilling or splashing.
Why we sniff
In normal breathing, only about ten percent of the air we breathe contacts our epithelium. Sniffing gives us a chance to smell everything that a wine offers. Smell is closely linked to our sense of taste. When we sniff the wine, we can detect various aromas that provide insights into its characteristics, quality, and complexity. The wine's aromas can range from fruity, floral, and herbal notes to more complex scents like spices, oak, or earthiness. By taking the time to smell the wine, we can gather information about its flavour profile and potential enjoyment.
How to sniff wine
Get your nose in the glass and take several deep sniffs!
After swirling, bring the glass to your face and place your nose just inside the rim of the glass. Take a series of short but deep quick sniffs, inhaling the aromas. You don’t need to be too dramatic here, and if you can avoid audibly sniffing, you might be better received. Enhance the olfactory result by keeping your mouth slightly open (again, remembering the close relationship between taste and smell).
Try to identify specific aromas such as fruits, flowers, spices, herbs, oak, or earthiness. Take your time and make note of any nuances or complexities you detect.
Sniff the wine multiple times, allowing the aromas to unfold and evolve. Each time you revisit the glass, you may notice different elements or more pronounced scents.
Why we spit wine
When you taste multiple wines, especially during a wine tasting or when trying a variety of wines before finding one you want to actually drink, spitting helps keep a clear palate. It’s also good to sip and swish water in your mouth in between tastings to remove the flavours of the previous wine. Additionally, it allows you to evaluate each wine while mindfully drinking responsibly and not becoming intoxicated.
For wine pros (sommeliers, critics, or winemakers, us) spitting wine is essential during professional tastings. It allows the ability to taste and evaluate a large number of wines without getting drunk, really. While it might seem like it’s the world’s greatest job (and it is, but for a wider range of reasons!), we need a clear, non-intoxicated mind to do our jobs right just like everyone else.
How to spit wine
Step 1: Sip the wine, assess its flavours and move it around your mouth ahead of spitting or swallowing. Take the wine into your mouth. While keeping your mouth open slightly, draw air into and onto your palate to continue to aerate and engage your olfactories to further enhance the wine and allow you to taste more. There is a trick to this to avoid inhaling your wine, so practise before you try this out in front of mixed company!
Step 2: Prepare to spit by making a kissing face
Step 3: Spit with medium pressure into a cup. Too little and you’ll dribble, too much and you’ll get splash back.
Step 4: Pour wine from your cup into the provided spit bucket.