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Interesting observation, Rik.

Without swirling, the aromas are mostly trapped in the liquid. It is true that you're getting some aromas from an unswirled glass since some alcohol evaporates (carrying aromas into the air where they can be sensed) even without swirling.

Does this little bit of scent indicate the aroma intensity? I agree with you in that it does give some clues, but I think that it gives only a portion of the intensity message.

And maybe some wines need to be coaxed.
Imagine comparing two wines side-by-side. One has low aroma intensity with high alcohol and the other is has high aroma intensity with low alcohol. Without swirling, the high alcohol wine might seem to have about the same intensity as the high-intensity wine.

Besides, most noses need all the help they can get when evaluating wine. I'd rather give the glass a good swirl and get the full intensity message.
Talked to an oenologist once who would do exactly as Rik says, as he said the primary aromas are most apparent before swirling, and the secondary ones become disproportionately stronger when swirling. He also claimed the tertiary aromas, when present, would be proportionally most discernible right after swirling the glass.

I admt I did that for a long time, but eventually ceased to do so. It didn't really work for me.

As for intensity, I think it doesn't really matter. If you are used to swirling a wine every time you nose it, you will eventually become proficient at deciding its intensity when swirling it - thus negating any need to judge intensity before swirling.
hi markus,

Markus Randall wrote:
Talked to an oenologist once who would do exactly as Rik says, as he said the primary aromas are most apparent before swirling, and the secondary ones become disproportionately stronger when swirling. He also claimed the tertiary aromas, when present, would be proportionally most discernible right after swirling the glass.

in all my tasting and talking with winemakers, i have never experienced or heard the above, so i discussed your post with bruce sanderson, head of wine spectator's tasting department. and he's done a lot of tasting and talking.

it seems to both of us that the oenologist may have been describing the development of aromas in a wine over the course of its life (simply put: primary aromas come from the fruit, secondary aromas come from fermentation, and tertiary aromas come from aging).

when aromas are perceived in a glass of wine, they do not reveal themselves in such an order. instead, the aromas are sensed as a group. your nose and brain work together to identify the dominant aromas first and then they tackle the more subtle aromas.

...maybe that's why it didn't really work for you.
hmmm. interesting. i'll survey a few winemakers at the wine experience next weekend and report back to the board. let's see what we come up with.

but first i need to clarify the issue and our points of view, since we already have a couple different theories here.

the first question: "what do you smell in a wine before swirling?"

rik's answer, 'intensity of aroma.'

markus' answer, 'primary aromas (but that didn't seem to work for him). and intensity'

benchland's answer, 'the first impression, which is especially important in older wines.'
question for benchland, what specifically are you perceiving on that first impression before you swirl: intensity? primary aromas? tertiary aromas?

ron's answer, 'I had one of the representitives there suggest that.'
question for ron what do you mean by "that?"

the second question: what do you smell in a wine during and after swirling?

markus' answer, 'intensity. and maybe the secondary aromas become disproportionately stronger when swirling. tertiary aromas, when present, might be most discernible right after swirling.'

benchland, your answer would be ??
It really depends on the stage of the wine in evolution, as far as the aromas are concerned. For a younger wine, I find earth, wood, mineral and fruit. After swirling, the fruit is more obvious but some of the other components fade. With time sitting undisturbed in the glass, they reappear until the next swirl. The first wine that I used to show a consumer base was the 99 Sawyer Cab (I was in the tasting room at the time). The first pour revealed a molasses/brown sugar note along with the big red fruit and dust. After swirling, the molasses/brown sugar disappeared as well as most of the "Rutherford dust" only to come back after 5-10 minutes of sitting still. For a wine to really open up, it should sit in the glass without swirling. (IMO) It might take a longer period of time but what ever emerges is not manipulated, more powerful and a truer representation.

So in short, you should find all the aromas (if they exist) without swirling and some patience. The tertiary aromas of an older, mature wine will be more pronounced (funk) without swirling and will go away slower than if swirled. But for me, what appears after is more pleasant and accurate.

I had dinner at the French Laundry earlier this year in honor of my BdX friends 50th. We took a bottle of 55 Lafon Rochet. The wine was fabulous strait out of the bottle and improved in glass for up to 20 minutes before starting to fade. My better half swirled her wine a few times and it died much quicker (5-10 mins) in her glass than in mine. I can only attribute this to premature oxidation due to the forcing of oxygen into the glass by swirling.

These are some of my experiences and yours may be different. I suggest taking a young bottle and a mature one. Pour two glasses of each wine side by side. Swirl one and not the other and evaluate these wines for a period of 15-20 minutes. Take some notes and let us know what you think. I'm curious as to your findings. Smile
Sorry, Benchland, I'm not going to do the test.

I think the old-young comparison is a totally different one from the sniff-swirl one.

Old wines tend to oxidise very fast. I remember a Ch. Nenin 1957 tat was already entirely gone before it hit the bottom of the glass.
Some 02 can do lots of good to a very tannic young wine on the other hand.

Question of a first sniff before swirling.
Apart from nasty smells that disappear rather quickly after pouring, without swirling (or walsing as we say) you get a first impression of concentration. A well concentrated wine (say pauillac) will form like an aromatic fist in your glass, more or less closed down (so more or less easy to grasp). And you will get an idea of the dominant aroma(s). Probably oak, and pepper, but you'll get an idea of the underlying fruit as well.
As for less concentrated wines: the will burst open. Like a beaujolais: flowers and all kinds of fruit, but very volatily, gentle but not deep.

And speaking of depth.
Next to the concentration an "unswirled sniff" will give an idea of the depth of a wine, a deep breath will give you a seemingly endless aromatic experience, that you will be able to define in detail after swirling.

If you sniff an unswirled Cheval Blanc, with the deepest breath you can take, it will be like being sucked into your glass and taken on a line trolley ride like Indiana Jones.
Swirling afterwards will put the color in the details.

Is this scientifically enough for your likings.
Try this experiment-
Pour 2 glasses
Swirl both vigorously for a few seconds & let them sit on the table for 10 minutes.

Glass #1-WithOUT swirling, smell it; taste it & then swirl before putting it back down.
Glass #2- Swirl it, then smell & taste it. Then put it down.
Both get the same amount of agitation, but the wines have very different aroma & flavor profiles.

I ALWAYS prefer Glass #1. It is more balanced and has floral & fruit notes both in the smell AND the taste. The only aromas & flavors I get from Glass #2 are alcohol & acidity. It also seems more disjointed(like travel shock).
What you need to realize is that the first sniff (without swirling) has already been quasi-swirled due to the pouring. In anycase, I am a proponent of (if possible- such as at dinner) swirling first then leaving the wine for a bit and then going back to it for a "not swirl" perspective. The aromas buildup nicely in the glass and that first sniff after it has been swirled then left to sit is usually more intense and you are able to identify some interesting things that you may have missed.
Why is it that so many times the first small pour after opening is the best tasting and aromatic of the entire bottle? I can't even count the number of times where I took the first smell and taste of the bottle and thought I'd died and gone to Heaven; then the rest of the bottle was a letdown. This happens for me whether it's an older wine or a newer one; the first pour is always the best. I've never had a decanted wine that tasted better than the first pour.
First sniff, no swirl. Again.

With the first sniff, unswirled, we tell the interested wine studax to compare the kind of concentration in the aroma he or she smells with a perfumed hand soap, an eau de toilette and a perfume.
Not the quantity of aromas, but the concentration.
Or: does the unswirled wine in the glass form an aromatic fist or just a wavy hand.

Then, after swirling, we go on defining the aromas present.

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