OK, it’s true we love wine. And yes, there are a variety of traditions and rituals we seem to follow from time to time. I was thinking about this recently when I ran across a blog on this very subject – and as I am not one to pass up good information I have borrowed liberally from it for this update to our Blog.
Wine lovers develop certain habits that may seem strange in polite company. These customs and rituals are part of wine appreciation that you pick up as you progress through your wine education. They are also easy to ridicule, and become the essence of wine snobbery to the uninitiated. Yet they (almost always) serve a role in enhancing our enjoyment of the wine.
Did you know that we hold our glass up to the light and gaze intently at the liquid within as if it holds the secret of life? In truth, it may only hold the secret of the next few minutes, but this visual inspection allows us to evaluate the wine’s clarity. Similarly, by tilting the glass against a white background, we can see the wine’s color and discern a clue to its age and condition. The color of the wine around the rim changes with age, and if the wine (white or red) seems murky, it may be over the hill or have been stored improperly and exposed to heat.
This visual inspection is also why we hold the glass by the stem; fingerprints on the bowl are unsightly, and our hands may warm the wine. True wine geeks will hold the glass by its foot, with or without the pinky extended. This shows sophistication but requires care in performing the next tasting ritual – The Swirl. Swirling the glass becomes second nature to wine lovers – we’ve been spotted swirling water glasses, juice drinks and the occasional cocktail in unguarded moments. Yet it serves two purposes. First, it completes our visual appreciation as we note how the wine cascades down the side of the glass. Try this experiment: Take two identical wine glasses and fill one with water no more than a quarter to the top. Then pour an equal amount of red wine into the second glass. Swirl each glass. The water will simply fall back to the bottom, but the wine should form rivulets that flow more slowly, as if clinging to the side of the glass. These rivulets are called “legs” or “tears,” depending on whether you’re feeling sexist or emotional. A wine that has “nice legs” will have good body and will taste richer, perhaps with more alcohol, than one that leaves little to behold after a good swirl.
The swirl’s second purpose is to release the wine’s aromas into the bowl of the glass so we can perform the next step: Stick our nose in the glass and inhale deeply. (Swirling and sticking one’s proboscis below the rim are two very good reasons not to fill the glass too high!)
Finally, after all this rigmarole, we actually put the wine into our mouth. But we don’t swallow it at first. Rather, we gargle it or swish it around the inside of our mouth. By aerating the wine and swishing it noisily around our gums, we theoretically release more of the wine’s flavors. We certainly annoy anyone around us.
Even after we swallow (or spit if we’re at a wine tasting and have a LOT to taste), we’re not done. There’s still the “Oooh – ahh” of sucking in air to enjoy the wine’s leftover flavors that linger in the mouth. This is yet another way of accentuating the wine’s flavors.
And then, maybe we’ll smile. But there’s still one more ritual: We pull out our smartphones and post a photo of the wine on social media. Facebook and apps like Delectable or Vivino make it easy to catalog and brag about the wines we drink. For what’s the point of enjoying a wine if we can’t share it?