There are few things more elegant and mesmerizing than watching wine endlessly twirl within the bowl of a crystal glass. Those who do it well can almost create designs with their swirl, changing direction and speed at will. For some, it can be so addictive that it becomes like second nature and the swirling never stops. I know I am certainly guilty of that on many occasions.
Beyond its visual appeal there is an actual purpose to this entertaining, mildly annoying, ritual. Wine needs to breathe… and the bottom line is the more air you can get to the wine as quickly as possible, the faster all those hidden nuances and complexities will show themselves. For the same reason most wines will benefit from being decanted, swirling the wine allows the most surface area to come in contact with oxygen thereby allowing the wine to breath and open up.
Certain glass makers, like Riedel, take it even one step further. They leave tiny traces of lead in their glass (hence the name lead crystal) to improve this process. People ask me all the time… isn’t that dangerous? From all the studies that have been done the amount is so miniscule it is completely harmless. But it gives a hint of texture to the inside of the bowl. So that while you are swirling, the small non-visible bumps in the glass can help aeration of the wine as you twirl and swirl your favorite juice.
Once you get good, you can swirl your decanters or even 2-3 glasses at a time! But if you are about to enjoy a really young, tannic wine or an older vintage Bordeaux that needs to open up, then swirl away! It may take some practice but once you get the hang of it you may never stop.