When my daughter Elizabeth and I put on our wine distributor hats, one of the fun things we get to do is work (I say ‘work’ tongue in cheek) wine tastings and wine dinners.
In today’s post we are going to explore the top tips to help you get the most out of wine tastings. Wine tasting events are usually conducted at wine shops, country clubs, restaurants and wine classes. The best way to learn of these events is to make an effort to get on your favorite establishment’s mailing list, which is most likely an email list. That way you will be automatically notified when wine tastings are to be held. In our local market I am most familiar with the tastings held at the Chalet Party Shoppe, City-Wide Liquors and The Wine Gallery at Villa Macri. It really doesn’t matter where you live; wine tasting events are available throughout the world.
Depending on the venue, it is normal to pay a modest admission fee of between $10 and $20. Wine tasting events are a great way to become familiar with different types of wine and to discover your personal likes and dislikes…without making a huge monetary investment. These informal events will also offer you the opportunity to discuss the wines with the vendors, suppliers, vintners, winemakers and fellow tasters.
Several weeks back, Elizabeth and I poured wine at the Chalet Mardi Gras tasting. This event featured seven different vendors. Each vendor featured either wines, spirits or craft beers. If you were there to taste wines, you would have had the opportunity to taste from 10 to 15 different wines. There were, of course, reds and whites including Cabernets, Malbecs, Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs and white Bordeaux…really something for everyone. Even Mrs. Tiedemann, who isn’t much of a wine drinker, found the opportunity to taste some exotic tequila at Patrick Wittling’s table of Carroll Wine & Spirits. As I say, there is something for everyone.
Before you go to a tasting, there are a few things to keep in mind to get the most out of the event. These tips are based on being on both sides of the tasting table over the past few years.
Carl and Elizabeth’s Suggestions for Wine Tasting Events:
1) Make a plan. Before you go, decide what kind of information you hope to gain from your participation. For example, do you want to know more about a particular type of wine, a certain grape or region? Or is this just a social event with friends?
2) Eat before you go. Most tastings will have SOME food available (like cheese and crackers) or light appetizers. But don’t count on that. You want something in your stomach to help your body absorb the alcohol so you can enjoy the event without getting tipsy or drunk. Remember always drink responsibly and don’t drive if you have had too much to drink.
3) No heavy scents. Using any scent like heavy perfumes, aftershave lotion, scented hairspray, etc. is a bad idea. You don’t want to have any distractions from your normal sense of smell and taste.
4) Start light. When tasting wines, it is generally advisable to start with the lightest varieties first such as white wines or non-sweet wines and then move up the wine scale to the heavier ones. Finish with the sweeter dessert wines. You might also want to have a game plan for the overall tasting. Consider starting with Old World wines (French and Italian) and then going to New World wines (Californian and Argentinean) next.
5) To spit or not to spit? When you are a rookie wine taster it is difficult to remember that your purpose for going to the wine tastings is to evaluate and become familiar with the wines…not to get drunk. At every tasting table there is always, or should be, a dump or spit bucket. Depending on the type of wine tasting, it is perfectly acceptable to either spit out or dump the unconsumed wines into the bucket.
There are reasons I recommend you spit or dump your wine, especially if you are going to taste 10 to 15 wines in an evening.
- The alcohol in the wine will begin to dull your senses and affect your palate and your ability to distinguish or evaluate the wines.
- If you drove to the tasting, you are taking a risk driving home afterwards. Don’t take the chance.
- Swallowing all of the wine isn’t really necessary to taste the wine fully. Maybe I am not experienced enough, but I need to swallow “some” of the wine. I suggest you take a small sip of your wine sample and hold the wine in your mouth for eight to 10 seconds…swishing it around to coat the inside of your mouth. Then swallow. Swallowing will allow you to experience the finish of the wine.
- One sip should be enough to evaluate the wine. Dump the rest.
6) Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember you are at a tasting to learn about the wines being presented. As I mentioned earlier, this is your opportunity to speak with the vintner, winemaker, wine distributor or wine shop representative. All of whom have knowledge of the wine they are pouring. Take advantage of this education opportunity to its fullest.
7) Don’t hog the table. One of my pet peeves when I am working a wine tasting is the people who hog the table. Three or four people will come to the table, get their pour and then stand there and talk amongst themselves (blocking the way for anyone else to get to the table). Please be courteous. Get your sample, ask your questions and step away. You can always get back in line for a second sampling or to ask more questions.
8) Remember the wine: Take notes. Normally the wine store will provide some sort of hand-out listing the wines by table or the vendor will supply tasting notes. I can tell you from experience, after tasting five or six wines they begin to run together. Note taking is fundamental to remembering the wines you tasted and enjoyed.
9) Be adventurous: Drink outside your comfort zone. Wine tastings provide a unique opportunity to try a variety of different wines. I cannot tell you how many times I have met people at wine tastings who tell me they only drink white wines or only drink Cabernets. My response is always “the fun thing about wines is they all taste differently.” Try wines outside your normal comfort zone. I guarantee that you will find different wines that you will like. It would be a shame to miss out on something new.
10) Remember my saying: wine and wine culture should be interesting, adventurous and memorable. Hopefully your next tasting will combine all three of these items.
Be sure to check out our “Calendar of Wine Events” on the blog’s Wine page and follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/tiedemannonwines) to learn about upcoming wine tastings. Our next blog will discuss what to expect at a wine dinner! See you at the next wine tasting. Cheers.