Oct 14 2008

Getting a swirlie: Why take your wine for a spin?

Published by at 2:19 AM under Savvy Sip Tips,Wine Education

There’s a well-known wine bar with an interior so hip, it’s flawed.

Its tables are made of a sophisticated stone left rough and bumpy. It looks beautiful, but the surface makes sliding a wine glass in quick, tight circles to swirl the wine impossible.

Why is this so important? Tyler Colman, aka Dr. Vino, says if you want to be official about it, swirling volatizes the esters. So what’s an ester? It’s “any of a class of often fragrant organic compounds that … are usually formed by the reaction between an acid and an alcohol with elimination of water.” (Thank you, Merriam-Webster.) In short, a vigorous swirl releases the scent of a wine, and scent is crucial to taste.

Describing what one smells in a wine can be a tremendous challenge or a fun party game. Someone has affixed an official list of scents to most wines: black fruits, hay, earth, lemons, green apples, stewed apricots…even cat urine or auto fuel, at times. (I’m not sure I’m drinking that one.) People with a “good nose” for a wine’s nose can run what they’re smelling past a huge library of scents and come up with a description that makes you say, “Oh, yeah, I get that!”

People like me are still adding to that library. I smell deeply, think slowly, then wait hopefully for someone to help me name what I’m experiencing, just like a toddler waits for a grown-up to name the colors in a box of crayons. We all need to be given the language to attach to our sensory input in the beginning.

Some of the most fun I’ve had with swirling and smelling a wine has been with people willing to call out any crazy thing they smell. There’s no judgement, no right or wrong. Sure, we’ll read the back of the bottle afterward to see what the official description includes, but more often, what aromas a person assigns to a wine can say something revealing about his or her personality and past experiences. It’s a great way to volatize the stuffy formality out of a wine tasting.

If you want some practice swirling and sniffing those esters, stop by Just Grapes between 2 and 4 p.m. any Saturday for their free tasting. Smooth surfaces abound! 

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