There's No Way Not to Look Pretentious Swirling Wine

April  6, 2016

But you should do it anyway—we promise it's worth it.

As it turns out, swirling wine is about much more than just looking cool.

Why It's Worth it to Swirl

"When you swirl a glass of wine," Robert Fritz, Director of Fine Wine at Chelsea Wine Vault, told me over the phone, "you're releasing its esters, aroma, and flavor compounds. When they combine with the oxygen in the air, they undergo a myriad of chemical processes." This makes the aroma compounds—the apricots you might get from a Chenin Blanc, or the tropical fruit and honey in a Gewürztraminer—smell richer.

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"It doesn't change the wine," Tom Geniesse, founder of the Manhattan wine shop Bottlerocket, added, "but it does help you fully experience it."

And for slightly less aromatic wines, like an unoaked Chardonnay, Eileen M. Duffy, author of Behind the Bottle: The Rise of Wine on Long Island, explained that the process of swirling can help you detect the aromas without sticking your entire nose into the glass. It can also impact flavor: In the same way decanting a wine opens it up, so does swirling, on a slightly smaller scale.

(And, in case you're concerned, the sommelier will never be judging you: "They'll just be thrilled that you ordered a glass or bottle of wine instead of a cocktail," Eileen told me.)

Can you Swirl Beer?

"Swirling for beer accomplishes the same as it would for wine," Gwen Conley, co-author of Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros, explained. "That swirling motion releases the volatile aromatics, which will enhance your overall flavor experience. On the higher alcohol beers, it's always a treat to see the legs form on the sides of the glass."

But it's important not to swirl too much! Since effervescence and CO2 is an important part of beer, you want to make sure you don't release too many bubbles. The same goes for sparkling wines.

How to Swirl

"Keep [the glass] on the table," Robert said, and Eileen also recommends beginning with a smaller amount, or using a larger glass, so that the glass is one-third to half full.

Then, holding the stem between your pointer finger and thumb, while resting your palm on the table, swirl it so the wine goes around the glass two or three times. Like so.

"And, sorry, there is no way to avoid looking pretentious, so forge ahead with confidence," Tom added.

Do you swirl before you sip? Tell us in the comments below!


See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • QueenSashy
  • Sandi Hemming
    Sandi Hemming
I eat everything.


QueenSashy April 6, 2016
I am deadly afraid of sommeliers, they are the nightmare in my closet. Thank you for the tip, I feel in charge now :)
Sandi H. June 7, 2020
Absolutely! They are especially haute’ when request to return and pick another. Price should be what is recommended. Pricing is not a staff mistake.