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Friday, August 12, 2011

Advice for Wine Lovers

Ralph de Amicis claims to be an expert on wine. He lives in the Napa Valley in California and runs tours of the vineyards with his wife, Lahni.

Apparently there's a belief among wine connoisseurs that the way you swirl your wine makes a difference in how you perceive the flavors. Here's how Ralph describes it [Wine Swirling, Left or Right? It Matters!],1
When you swirl your wine to the left (counter clockwise) the scent you pick up is from the barrels over the grapes, what we call the spice shelf. When you swirl the wines to the right (clockwise) you pick up more flavors from the fruit.

I’ve shown this to clients in the tasting room and experimented with it myself and found it to be true, and especially noticeable with wines that have spent significant time in newer oak barrels.
Isn't that amazing? You may be asking yourself how the direction of swirling can make such a difference. Well, Ralph wondered the same thing but he has the background to answer such a question.
Now, as a master herbalist and aroma-therapist, and as someone who has lectured extensively on natural health, anatomy and physiology I know a thing or two about plants, and how people perceive them. So, based upon what I know about how living cells function, these are my insights.
With credentials like that I just had to read on ...

Like all living things wine cells have a magnetic polarity, just like humans and the Earth. The positive pole is more highly charged, just like the North Pole of the Earth, which is why there are Northern Lights in the Arctic Circle, but not Southern Lights in the Antarctic. This polarity tends to keep wine cells generally upright, spinning on their axis when they are being swirled. This magnetic action within a liquid is commonly demonstrated in laboratories. Because plant molecules are mostly liquid, when they form they are also subject to the electromagnetic forces that are a component of the rotation of the Earth. As a result, the pores on the surface of the molecules develop based on that rotation, like the shingles on a roof.

When you swirl the wine counter-clockwise you are pushing against the molecules nap, just like stroking the fur of a cat the wrong way, this dislodges anything on the surface. Since the flavor from the barrel is introduced fairly late in the wine's development it tends to concentrate in the outer layers. When you swirl the wine counter-clockwise it dislodges that flavor, while at the same, pushing liquid into the pores, inhibiting the fruit flavors that are inside the cell from coming out.

In comparison, when you swirl the wine clockwise the pressure of the surrounding fluid forces the fruit flavors out through the pores. It also pushes any flavors concentrated on the surface down onto the skin of the molecule. The fact that the wine is alive, electrically charged, and still changing is why this happens. So, when you swirl the wine to the right or left think of it as if you are stroking your favorite pet. Sometimes they like it rough, but mostly they like it smooth.
I assume that most readers of Sandwalk will find this as amusing as I did. But just in case you don't get the joke, here's what Derek Lowe has to say: In Which We Learn Lots About Wine Swirling.

Ralph de Amicis is a kook. Does mocking his ignorance serve a useful purpose? Some would argue that it's impolite to make fun of the opinions of others. I'm not one of those people. I think that scientific ignorance needs to be exposed and I'm happy to provide another website that will pop up in Google searches for "Ralph de Amicis." Maybe he will pay more attention to what he writes in the future so we don't have to point out his complete lack of understanding of science.

For no particular reason, here's a picture of aurora australis (Southern lights) from space [Aurora australis (southern lights)]. It's just simple physics.

1. For extra amusement, you might want to read Followup Swirling Article in which Ralph de Amicis responds to those who criticized his first article.

Hat Tip: Chad Orzel: The Stupidest Thing You'll Read Today

Photo Credits: (top) Amicis Tours Blog, (bottom) Wine Tour in the Napa Valley


  1. LOL. Of all the "expert" quacks, the oenophiles just might be most ridiculous.

  2. Wow, that's some hard-core silliness.
    Not just the 'magnetic' bit, but also that he seems to think that wine 'molecules and cells' are coated in 'flavours', and that the outermost layer (the valence flavour, why not!) is the one we taste first.

    Similarly ridiculous is the idea that wines can pick up a 'mineral' flavour, infact different mineral flavours, from the soil and surroundings, the "terroir".

    Now, I used to have a geology professor who'd, on field trips, pick up rocks from the mud and start licking them, but that was to, he claimed, get an idea about grain size (in fact I feel it was more of a demonstration to really get us to focus our senses), but never to 'taste the provenance' of the rock.

  3. And here I was all ready with a joke about swirling it the other way in the Southern Hemisphere (there's apparently a hilarious Simpsons on this that I've unfortunately managed to miss), when this horse's patoot beats me to the punch with the stuff about no Aurora australis.

  4. It would make most sense to divide the solution of "plant molecules," vortex in opposite directions--both inhibiting and dislodging "flavors" from the "molecular skin"--and re-combine for a superior solution containing half of each "wine cell."

  5. Swirling has an effect (mostly on temperature). Swirling with the wrong handedness is less efficient which could account for a different flavor.

  6. Wow. You need to warn people not to read stuff like that over their morning coffee. It can be hard on the keyboard.


  7. I don't think that is a picture of the Aurora Australis. The nap appears to be wrong. But if you stand on your head and squint, then the more recently accumulated light around Antarctica will be more receptive to your retina and your rods and cones will properly perceive the uniqueness of the Southern Lights.

    It's pretty simple really.

  8. Darn. I was hoping that this would go the way of "The Lady Tasting Tea!"

  9. I see in the follow up he corrects himself and refers instead to the wine atom. There is some historical precedent for this. Albert Einstein himself split the beer atom with a chisel to make beer with bubbles in it when he was still an unknown Australian farmer.
    Interested readers can learn more in the 1980s biographical film "Young Einstein" starring Yahoo Serious.

  10. Oh my dog. There is not one single correct sentence in that explanation. About anything. On the other hand, I am an organic chemist and perhaps just never knew that the outcomes of my reactions could be dictated by the direction in which they are stirred.