Swirling your wine is not pretentious; it’s just good physics
Wine aficionados are known for gently swirling their wine in the glass before tasting, and it isn’t as pretentious as it seems. (Well, maybe a little.) They claim the rotation mixes in oxygen and enhances the flavor. Physics backs them up, specifically a mini-subfield dubbed “oenodynamics.” The swirling action—technically called “orbital shaking”—creates a rotating gravity wave in the direction of the swirling force being applied, churning up the liquid in the process.
It’s often said that science begins with someone noting an unusual effect and thinking, “Huh… that’s funny”—and then investigating to find out more. Such was the case for a coterie of wine-swirling physicists. Several years ago, Martino Reclari, then a graduate student at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, was out to dinner with colleagues when the conversation turned to the different kinds of wave dynamics they could produce by swirling their wine glasses: one big smooth wave, a series of smaller ripples, or a splash, for instance.
Not content to leave it at the dinner table, they performed a series of experiments in the ensuing weeks by filling small cylinders of varying sizes with different volumes of a modest merlot. They used gyrating machines commonly found in chemistry labs to swirl the wine in the cylinders, duly noting how various factors affected the behavior of the wine.