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Snake Oil

In Which We Learn Lots About Wine Swirling

Well, we could use some comedy around here these days, and here’s someone from the Napa Valley wine business to help us out. Let’s work up to this one slowly: do you drink wine? If you do, do you swirl it around in the glass at any point? Do you think it matters, for the taste, which direction you swirl it?
Didn’t see that one coming, did you? But never fear, answers are at hand. (Thanks to LeighJKBoerner on Twitter, via Chemjobber.

. . .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. . .The question comes up, why is that? 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.

Let’s pause a moment, because I want to make sure that everyone’s braced for those insights. Make sure that you’re ready to keep up with a master aromatherapist and natural health lecturer, because it’s going to get pretty, um, technical at this point:

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. (Link added for clarity, and because I just couldn’t resist – DBL) 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.

He probably lost you at “wine cells” – see, I told you it was going to be hard to keep up. Note that a follow-up to this adjusts that language, saying that “The proper term would be molecule or even atom”, which is surely pretty much roughly the same thing as a cell, right? When you’re talking about wine? That second article is worth reading all by itself, by the way, for the kind of check-out-my-credentials display that would do well for a bird of paradise during mating season. But let’s get back to the science:

“. . .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. . .
. . .Everything has a polarity right down to the atomic level, and when put into suspension in a liquid it rotates in relation to that pole. Because we are on a planet that has both a polar system and a consistent rotation, everything forms with a pole and a circular patterning. Wind it one way and it tightens and wind it the other and it unwinds.
Honestly this is just basic physics related to molecular science and plant chemistry, something which herbalists and herbal researchers deal with all the time. A pretty sober group of people. . .

So there you have it! Those herbal researchers, they must be right up there on the edge of knowledge if they deal with this kind of stuff all the time. All of this, and it’s all half-understood second-hand gibberish, of course, reminds me of the biodynamic wine movement, which from what I can tell is stuffed just as full as it can be with, well, let’s just call it half-understood second-hand gibberish.
Check out “Preparation 501”, a key part of the process: “Ground quartz is buried in cow horns in the soil over summer. The horn is then dug up, its contents (called horn silica or ‘501’) are then stirred in water and sprayed over the vines at daybreak.” You don’t need much, though – it’s reputed to be very powerful stuff. But honestly, I think I’d rather deal with the mystical-life-force cow horn buriers than with people who try to tell me that it’s all just simple physics, all the while yammering about magnetic fields and the skins of molecules. Or atoms. Whatever.

78 comments on “In Which We Learn Lots About Wine Swirling”

  1. anon says:

    Does the direction of swirling to give results one way or the other depend on whether you’re in the northern or southern hemispheres? I assume that if your at the equator, you just splash it on your shirt.

  2. Bacchus says:

    I’m positive about the fact that more planets are involved. The guy should drink two or three additional bottles to figure this out.

  3. Nick K says:

    I believe the technical term for this sort of stuff is “utter bollocks”.

  4. Arjun says:

    While this is obviously an extra-large baloney sandwich, it’s worth pointing out that swirling your wine has a very simple and easily verifiable purpose, that being to increase the surface area of the wine, thereby allowing a greater number of sweet-smelling wine volatiles to enter your nose. Try it, it works.

  5. Ricardo Rodriges says:

    I must remember to put the wine in the NMR, calibrate properly the temperature, and start making those wine tasting experiments. I can almost see that 3D plot, which will turn into 4D by the end of the “experiment. Sample will be spun!

  6. Jordan says:

    I want some of whatever that guy’s drinking.

  7. RD says:

    Wha? Is this like some kind of oenophilic property that can be measured by NMR?
    I want to take that class but only if there’s a lab late in the afternoon.

  8. Anonymous says:

    This reminds me of an article I came across in an in-flight magazine regarding stain removal while traveling. The author suggested always carrying salt while traveling because, “We all remember from high school chemistry that salt is a protein, and since most stains are proteins, and like-dissolves-like, salt is a great stain remover.” Although this wine swirling garbage is in another league, the similarity is if you don’t know any better it sounds convincing …

  9. SP says:

    Dude, what if, like, the earth is really just a giant NMR magnet we’re living and and the sun is some omniscient alien’s way of pulsing us with RF to measure our spectra? It blows your mind! Ok, gotta go, I need to get shimmed.

  10. MTK says:

    I’d like to challenge this yahoo to a blind taste test consisting of 12 glasses of wine. Tell him 6 were swirled in one direction and six in the other and have him identify which is which. Of course, I’d have four swirled left, four right, and four not swirled at all.
    Actually, why waste the time. I’d like to beat him senseless. Not for being ignorant, but for propagating this crap and pretending to be some authoritative voice on it.

  11. wearinbeads says:

    a shameless plug for one of my collaborators at U CA Davis Mondavi Institute

  12. partial agonist says:

    Thank reminds me of the true story I witnessed where a TV meterologist gave a weather report following the sports report on the local news. The sports guy had just reported that the local baseball team (the Cincinnati Reds) had hit many home runs on a hot and muggy night.
    The weatherman assured us all that the home runs occuring tonight were largely because “hot air molecules are much bigger than cold air molecules so there are fewer of them to get in the way of the baseball. Also the hot big molecules are always rising, so nothing is there to hold down the baseballs on a night like this”

  13. geezer says:

    You missed some of the best parts of this guys drivel….”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 should of swirled more wine in grad school.

  14. JC says:

    I usually slosh instead of swirl. This sets up a waveform in the wine that I find particularly compelling.

  15. lynn says:

    I swirl my wine counterclockwise [widdershins] because I’m right handed. And I have to admit that I am particularly sensitive to picking up the oak scents of the barrel. But I think that’s more my physiology than the direction of those wine cells.

  16. Anonymous says:

    The majority of the planet believes that someone two thousand years ago was able to convert water cells into wine cells by wishing it so. That’s a lot more impressive than subtly nudging the alignment of wine cells with magnetic fields. But no one calls this snake oil or utter bullocks.

  17. PharmaHeretic says:

    And that wine guy has a decent income and probably a much better personal life than many chemists.

  18. MTK says:

    Good God, JC! I almost choked on my ’46 Petrus.
    Sloshing is the last thing you want to do. The violent back and forth, as opposed to the subtle circular motion of swirling, will undoubtedly damage the wine cells. At best, it will misalign the polarity within the cells causing the molecular pores to open and close randomly, if at all.

  19. pete says:

    Why not give the consumer the best of both worlds without all that tedious swirling ?
    Envision this: Wine that’s been “doubly-centrifuged” — both directions — before mise en bouteille. That way you get SPICE SHELF and FRUIT all at once !! (…errr, like cheap sangria)

  20. Hap says:

    Half-understood is probably a significant overestimate.
    Also, since the authors don’t seem to have thought to check what they wrote, I’m wondering whether they’ve Dunning-Kruegered themselves or whether they know that their target audience has no idea what they are talking about and so they can afford not to care what they say.
    At least wine-swirling theories are less harmful than the usual “Snake Oil” post topics.

  21. lazybratsche says:

    Hah! This came up on a forum I frequent, in this thread: Perhaps I’m being presumptuous but I think dear Ralph was referring to me as the person who “quite rudely took exception to the word cell”. The only reason I didn’t take exception to every other word was because I wanted to preserve some of my sanity.

  22. Chemjobber says:

    What is the 90° pulse angle of wine cells?

  23. cynic says:

    This isn’t just a “wine guy”; didn’t you read his credentials? That’s just a side business, anyway. They’ve got a separate company, books, product line, and website full of amazing, helpful advice (You didn’t know that acid blocks electrical conductivity, did you?). I had to pull out after the comments about how breast cancer screening is what causes the cancer to be dangerous; that the body can just dissolve the tumor or wall it off until someone goes squeezing and popping it during a mammogram. But, for you hardier souls, there’s no shortage of good stuff there.

  24. geezer says:

    Hap, unfortunately the wine swirling hypothesis is but a small fraction of the complete guff emanating from these charlatans. Amusing though.
    One of my favourites is the use of “Paleo Diet” in the treatment of arthritis (
    Since “The biggest cause of inflammation is excessive acid in the tissue”, I’ll be filing an IND for TUMS for RA. Beat you to it, suckers!

  25. Myma says:

    What I want to know is what direction do I swirl Australian wine in if I live in the US?
    @24 Ah, paleo dirt. There is some looney company trying to evaluate humic acid extracts (that’s dirt to you and me) for use in formulations improving gastrointestinal absorption of macromolecules, proteins and peptides and such.

  26. Drug Developer says:

    Far more effective in activating the vital energy of the wine is to dilute it — say, 50,000:1, and then knock it ten times against a leather-covered board. It’s delicious!

  27. Spastic Lab Rat says:

    My god, the questions this raises! Does this swirling work for port, or does the added brandy denature the wine cells? If you magnetically stir wine (or even mechanically if the tip speed is high enough) do you rupture/grind the wine cells and release ALL the flavor? I wonder what sonication would do. Most of all I wonder how that guys actually remembers to breathe.

  28. Spastic Lab Rat says:

    My god, the questions this raises! Does this swirling work for port, or does the added brandy denature the wine cells? If you magnetically stir wine (or even mechanically if the tip speed is high enough) do you rupture/grind the wine cells and release ALL the flavor? I wonder what sonication would do. Most of all I wonder how that guy actually remembers to breathe.

  29. nitrosonium says:

    i wonder if you’d pick up fruit aromas when swirling counter clockwise and barrel aromas when swirling clockwise if you were to conduct the exercise in Australia?

  30. Bengu says:

    The NMR guy at Columbia had the NMRs spinning the tubes in the wrong direction, messing up all my spectra. This is why I had to fix them with some whiteout.

  31. Jon says:

    @lazybratsche: I haven’t seen that thread yet (I’m also a poster there but I don’t go there at work) but based on the name, I can guess the poster. One of us should point Derek towards the ionizing pajamas discussion.

  32. Zombie says:

    This is why I drink bourbon.

  33. Harold says:

    As I was reading this all I could think of was biodynamics and its predecessor, Theosophy. (For a fun, occasionally accidentally coherent and informative introduction to both, see if you can pick up a copy of “Secrets of the Soil” at your nearest remaindered books clearance.) “Madame Blavatsky’s Guide to Wine,” anyone? Are you supposed to drink your wine from a cow horn that has been filled with cow dung during the dark of the moon and composted for six months?

  34. JC says:

    I shall have to try this swirling tho. Anything to assist me as I guzzle my way through a 3 L box of wine I got for less than $20 would be great.

  35. Stuck in NJ says:

    This helps to explain why California is a fiscal disaster.

  36. Bruce Hamilton says:

    There must be a new world of molecular structures visible to those who use nmrs that can spin both clockwise and anticlockwise.

  37. Doc Oc says:

    JC, try this:
    Bengu, well-played.

  38. Anonymous BMS Researcher says:

    There is also lots of nonsense said about the Coriolis effect, which over large scales (tens or hundreds of kilometers) is why tropical storms rotate the opposite direction in the Southern Hemisphere from their direction of rotation in the Northern Hemisphere. But on the scale of a bathroom drain the Coriolis term in the equations of motion is extremely small; to detect it one must take extreme measures to eliminate any preexisting asymmetries. My grad school professor once assigned as a class exercise a very silly paper claiming the Coriolis effect might account for left-right asymmetry in mammals; he asked us to calculate the magnitude of the Coriolis term over such a scale to show how nonsensical this was.
    There are a few real-world cases where the vertical component of the Earth’s magnetic field actually does matter; in the days of CRT monitors a monitor taken from Northern Hemisphere to Southern Hemisphere sometimes needed to have its color convergence re-calibrated. But I highly doubt there could be any biological relevance.

  39. Anonymous says:

    @lazybratsch &. @Jon
    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see other dopers reading this blog.

  40. CookingWithGas says:

    When I read this I thought it was quite a creative humor piece and checked my calendar to see if it was April 1. But when the author was kind enough to respond to my email with the content of the follow-up article, I realized that this was just a product of the DTs.

  41. TheFracturedFrog says:

    Wine cells… Can these cells split…? I’m gonna have to run some tests to determine the division rate, but I believe we may have solved the everlasting alcoholic beverage problem that has plagued us for generations!

  42. Beyoncero says:

    The advances in the science of wine aroma are truly beyond the comprehension of us ordinary chemists. What happens in December 2012 when the earth magnetic field inverts? Will that event change the characteristics of the wine smell?
    Whatever it may be, just serve me chemical free organic wine. I will drink to that.

  43. gippgig says:

    This reminds me of an old video game called “Space Quarks” where you injected subatomic particles with vitamins.

  44. WineCellbio says:

    If one raises blood levels of wine cells spinning on their axis, then the room spins as well, until blood levels fall again. A perfect PD marker I first experience as a teenager.

  45. Anonymous says:

    We’ll study a cheaper beer-based assay to save money before we enter the clinic.

  46. newnickname says:

    I haven’t connected to the linked sources yet, but maybe someone can tell me if they cite relevant sources on geometrodynamics. You know, like RC Dougherty who reported “Chemical Geometrodynamics: Fields Can Influence the Course of Prochiral Chemical Reactions.” JACS, 1980, 102, 380. and “Chemical Geometrodynamics: Physical Fields Can Cause Asymmetric Synthesis.” Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere, 1980, 11(1-2), 71-84.
    I wonder if Sharper Image or Brookstone will start selling “bidirectional wine spinners”?

  47. Morten G says:

    “A pretty sober group of people. . .”
    I see what he did there!

  48. Tony says:

    This sort of thing is sort of OK for giving us all a laugh. But when they get on to cancer, it stops being funny.

  49. Dean Martin says:

    Why waste time swirling? Just neck it quickly to numb the pain – I always do!

  50. Fred Hassan says:

    What is this wine you talk about? Is it what poor people drink when the champagne runs out (which never happens at Hassan towers).

  51. KissTheChemist says:

    Cheers for the laugh Derek !!
    Check out this guy’s website – he’s a Doctor of Naturopathy (this definition in Wiki : a form of alternative medicine based on a belief in vitalism, which posits that a special energy called vital energy or vital force guides bodily processes). Mm-hmmm.
    Also an author of a popular astrological calendar. I see.
    Personally, whichever way you swill it, I’m getting a strong wiff of snake oil.

  52. KissTheChemist says:

    Oh, I forgot to say he wtites about Feng Shui, too. Ah-haaaaa.

  53. Anonymous says:

    Oh the questions this raises! Does the swirling thing work for port, or does the added brandy denature the wine cells? If you use magnetic stirring (or mechanical stirring with a high tip speed) would that crush the wine cells and release ALL the aromas at once? I wonder what sonication would do. But mostly I wonder how that guy remembers to breathe. Pathetic.

  54. Spastic Lab Rat says:

    Oh the questions this raises! Does the swirling thing work for port, or does the added brandy denature the wine cells? If you use magnetic stirring (or mechanical stirring with a high tip speed) would that crush the wine cells and release ALL the aromas at once? I wonder what sonication would do. But mostly I wonder how that guy remembers to breathe. Pathetic.

  55. Field Trip! says:

    Then toilets in the southern hemisphere smell different than those in the northern hemisphere? While we are ignoring science (not to mention sensibility) anyway, then that is the next obvious experiment to do.

  56. Rick says:

    I love the AA Milne-esque title of your post, Derek. Just finished reading Winnie the Pooh, again. I highly recommend it to all.

  57. WINE-O says:

    Does the wine molecules consist of Tungsten (W), Iodine (I) and Neon (Ne)? I think that is the case here and would make some delicious molecules!

  58. Rod says:

    Now I understand why beer tastes better while doing a keg stand! Being upside down must align my polarity with the beer molecules.
    Bottoms up!

  59. Tinfoil Hat says:

    Now my friends will finally believe me when I explain to them the value of wine cells and molecule skins–I’ve been validated!

  60. flavor says:

    @27 Sonication gives cavitation, so you’ll get a prosecco type with lots of ruptured cells. Make sure you skim the top for the dead cell material.

  61. Anonymous says:

    It’s like that thing Jesus said, about putting new wine in old wine cell walls.

  62. blank stare says:

    Well now…. wait a minute. If wine is made up of wine cells, and cells traditionally multiply by division… how come my bottle is always empty at the end of the night?
    And as far as the pole shift on 2012 – better mark your calandar, as those who habitually swirl for ‘fruit over oak’ or…. the other way (phhht)…. there will be a roaring “Aw, nuts.” rising from the Earth on that evening creating such a strong and dark force that it just might blot out the sun.
    BTW – I found that ‘swirling’ considerably cuts down on my consumption time. I tried swirling while consuming, but much of it just went up my nose.

  63. anon says:

    Oh! I understand why drinking of wine cells causes cancer-coz, some of the wine cells are pluripotent stem cells!

  64. Another Tony says:

    Arjun: A greater surface area for odor transfer makes sense. I could also believe that the swirling brings fresh wine with a higher concentration of flavor/odor molecules to the surface so the aroma keeps flowing. I’m no chemist or physicist, but if someone wants to run the experiment I volunteer to help dispose of the waste. 🙂
    Cynic: they claim that acid “blocks electrical conductivity”? Seriously? I guess that lab in undergrad chem where we used a crude conductivity device (basically just a light bulb with a couple of probes) and added various acids, bases, and salts to distilled water to see the bulb light up was just another of the many lies told to us by Big Science. Fight the power!

  65. James says:

    Swirling wine has three effects, none of them remotely magnetism-related.
    Firstly, it increases surface area, as stated.
    Secondly, the ‘thin edge’ – that is, the bit that spins highest, right against the glass – becomes aerosolised, which makes it easier to pick up anything subtle.
    Thirdly, if your wine has been sitting for a while, it replaces the surface few mm of the wine, which may have already given up some of its aroma whole you weren’t looking (though this last is dubious).
    If you’re just drinking the stuff, though, it’s completely unnecessary and makes you look daft, just like the (at tastings only, but surprisingly effective) swishing across the palate with air.

  66. anonymous says:

    Still not mentioned in any comment (and it makes me wonder how many readers have actual experience with vintage wines):
    Properly aged good wine needs a little air exposure in order to develop its taste. It is called “decantation” and traditionally involves pooring the wine from the opened bottle into another container, a “decanter”. This is then allowed to stand for at least thirty minutes before the wine is poored into drinking glasses.
    I have experienced the effect personally a few times: When opening an expensive bottle of fine wine and proceeding to drink from it immediately, the wine tastes “flat” or even “dusty” and makes you wonder how it could be so expensive. The answer comes some time later at the next sip or glass, when the wine has acquired its proper bouqet.
    On another note, I have ofter heard much nonsense from “alternative” crowd people, such as about the influence of various crystals. I find amusement in pointing out the crystalline nature of kitchen salt and refined sugar (the latter considered very evil by many of these same people.)
    But my favorite reply is to state that “sure, crystals might have some influence. But so has suggestion. In fact I believe that the power of suggestion is over a million times stronger than the power of crystals! Shall we proceed to discuss the power of suggestion first?”

  67. anon says:

    It goes without saying that in the southern hemisphere wine should be swirled in the counterclockwise direction.
    At the equator however, one should place a hand over the glass and shake the wine up and down. How else can we keep those wine cell dipoles aligned?

  68. Distantdiamond says:

    Reminds me of teaching undergraduate chemistry classes and having to explain that you can’t improve the e.e. of a reaction by stirring in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise directions.

  69. ech says:

    Your students must read Harry Potter. Direction of stirring of a potion is a small plot point.

  70. Crush says:

    Yo, dude like, your blog is far out. Who da thunk a chemist would be like, so into magnetic fields of my favorite beverage. Duh!!! But like, do parity laws apply to wine cells? Like, if you were to slosh the wine while standing on your head, would you like, flip the sign of all three spatial co-ordinates? Inquiring minds want to know, dude.

  71. Innovorich says:

    Sort of reminds me of Nativis.

  72. rubidium says:

    All you wine philistines are clearly not familiar with the Shooter Buddy:
    Shooter Buddy and Vintage Express quickly realign the particles in your beverage by surrounding them with extremely powerful Neodymium (ne-o-dím-e-um) magnets. These are the strongest magnets currently known to man. They’re made from a combination of rare earth elements that create an extremely powerful replication of the Earth’s magnetic field. In as little as ten seconds, Shooter Buddy and Vintage Express restore the natural balance destroyed in the production process, duplicating the smooth, mellow flavor generated by years of traditional slow aging.

  73. Wessex says:

    My “shooter buddy” is a Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380.

  74. Hap says:

    I don’t think a .380 will align the particles in your beverage well for optimum flavor, though it is pretty good at aligning other things (the liquid in a glass, the major axis of the person at the other end of the bullet trajectory) with the floor. It’s kind of hard to get the drink’s flavor over the gunpowder smell, as well.

  75. Wessex says:

    Love the major axis line.

  76. Secondaire says:

    This entire thread is just comedy gold.
    I don’t drink, but reading all of this vaguely mystical poppycock penned by these snakey, oily twits makes me kind of want to start.

  77. John F says:

    Just commenting to say, i) the article and comments are a fun read; and ii) that I enjoy people calling MRI by its proper name: NMR 🙂

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