Today I’m going to try something new. I’m going to INVENT some kind of crazy new pseudoscientific idea and try and get people to believe it. First of all, I’m going to pick a field of interest that has some high levels of subjectivity. OK, um… – oh I know, wine tasting! There’s all sorts of hocus pocus goes on with that. Now let’s see… I’ve got it! You know when people swish the wine around in the glass? Could it be that swishing it clockwise makes it taste different to swishing it anticlockwise? You know: clockwise swirling brings out the spicy notes and anti-clockwise makes it taste more of the fruit. Genius! I’ll call it ‘wine swirling’ and…

Sorry? What’s that you say? It already exists? People actually already believe it? Come ON! That’s ridiculous! No-one could seriously come up with such a patently silly notion…!

Yes, my dear Acowlytes, it is true. Faithful Cowpoke JR points me to this article from the owner of a tour company in the Napa Valley in California, that espouses the fine art of wine swirling. This is what Mr Ralph de Amicis, of Amicis Tours has to say:

This idea starting circulating around Napa via Twitter and here it is in a nutshell. 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.

O-k-a-a-a-y…. The idea started on Twitter, that completely reliable repository of fact and commonsense. That speaks volumes. Mr de Amicis goes on:

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. The question comes up, why is that?

Well, Mr de Amicis, the answer comes back pretty smartly: you’re deluding yourself. But don’t, for God’s sake, attempt any kind of explanation because you’ll only…

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…

Awww…dagnabbit!! I was feeling like cutting you a little slack but then you went and did some pretendy science on me. Sigh.

I guess by now about, oh, every person who lives in the Southern hemisphere has told you that there is, in fact, an Aurora Australis, which is exactly the same as the Aurora Borealis only on the other pole. Your failure to know this, and the cavalier attempt to base a line of reasoning on it, kinda nails your scientific credentials to the mast right there. ((If Mr Amicis had taken a few seconds to make a cursory check on Wikipedia he might have seen this: ‘Its southern counterpart, the aurora australis (or the southern lights), has almost identical features to the aurora borealis and changes simultaneously with changes in the northern auroral zone.’))

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.

Molecules have nap? ‘Flavor’ is on the ‘surface’ of the molecules and can be ‘dislodged? Molecules have pores? ‘Liquid’ goes into the ‘pores’ of the cells? Molecules? What? Ping! Now let’s be honest Mr de Amicis. You just made all that crap up, didn’t you? Like you made up the non-existence of the Southern Lights. You haven’t the foggiest clue how taste and smell work, have you? (You don’t hold shares in Special One Drop Liquid, by any chance? Or study under Dr Werner?)

Evidently I wasn’t the only one who found Mr de Amicis’s ‘science’ risible, as he was quick to post a justification of his views on his site. In this, he makes much of his scientific qualifications:

I’ve written eight books on wine country, three books on natural health, I’m a Master Herbalist with forty years of experience working with plants and people, a Naturopathic Physician, and I’ve lectured extensively on anatomy and physiology.

Right, so no actual science accreditation, then? ((Lecturing on something does not count as academic endorsement. I could ‘lecture’ on brain surgery, but it doesn’t mean I know anything at all about it.)) And nothing there about geomagnetic science, molecular chemistry or physics, which does explain rather a lot. Not content with just riding the faux pas out, though, our knowledgeable tour guide just keeps on digging…

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.

Uh. That’s what you learnt in herbal school, is it? Or in naturopathy college? Because they sure as hell don’t teach it in any science class I’ve ever been in. ((Mr de Amicis’s view of the planet is, evidently, that it functions like it’s powered by a giant rubber band.))

Honestly this is just basic physics related to molecular science and plant chemistry, something which herbalists and herbal researchers deal with all the time.

Honestly! Basic physics! Like the non-existence of the Aurora Australis due to the polarity of the Earth! ((Anyone with even an ounce of geophysical knowledge knows that the auroras don’t have anything at all to do with the positive or negative polarity of the the planet, but appear at the poles due to the shape of the Earth’s magnetic field and its focussing effect.))

By the way, I’ve done an informal study of this and my hyper-sensitive clients all notice the difference in the swirl directions and the nature of the scents. I would love to hear other people’s theories about this,

And I would love to oblige!

What’s going on here, Mr Amicis, is that your brain is tricking you. Because you have sold yourself on this daft idea, and because wine tasting is full of subjective assessments, you (and your ‘hyper-sensitive clients’) merely think that you’re detecting an effect. In proper science (that is, the kind that they don’t teach in naturopathy school) we have a way of eliminating this problem of self-delusion. It’s called ‘double blinding’ and I’m fairly sure ((When I say ‘fairly sure’ I am just being linguistically coy. I am in fact 100% certain.)) that if you had an unbiased third party set up a double blind testing of your idea you’d find that the ‘swirling factor’ mysteriously vanishes. I’m not going to explain double blinding here on the Cow for the millionth time, but I really do suggest you look it up on Wikipedia and familiarize yourself with the concept before you go making a further fool of yourself. You should probably read up on the auroras and the magnetosphere as well. Just saying.

The moral to this story, if it’s not obvious, is that if you want to promote something as science, make sure you understand what science is. Especially if you decide to write about it on your web site where the whole world can see it.