Many years ago, after my first wine tasting during a lecture, I arrived home (hostel) and my friend looked at me and asked me if I had been paintballing in class. I have moved on, of course, from those earlier years, but everybody has to start somewhere.
If you are new to this “wine thing” don’t worry, all you need is a little preparation and no one will know you are a rookie. Your enjoyment of each wine is personal and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise and most of all, don’t let them Judge you!
- Flamboyant English and large words that you can’t even spell
The English language uses the word “taste” both objectively and subjectively thus people often quickly decide that if they don’t like the wine it must be bad. Hence you sometimes get poor or one dimensional wine lists in restaurants based on one person’s opinions. Remember the wine can be good but you may not like it. Words like Flamboyant in wine language means a wine is trying to get your attention with an abundance of fruit. Almost everyone I know is equipped with a nose, a mouth and a brain, but every one perceives differently.” Generally white wines will taste of white, green or yellow fruit; red wines will taste of red, blue of dark fruit. It’s all just a question of practice” as our lecturer advised us to drink more often.
Do not wear white, cream or indeed any plain, light pastel shades. I’m convinced there are disgruntled former sommeliers frequenting these events and maliciously spitting Merlot or even a beautiful deep Cabernet Sauvignon onto unsuspecting tasters. In the beginning you will invariably return home with speckles of red on parts of your clothing. I have witnessed some catastrophic misguided spitters in class, who accidently missed the spittoon and splashed the table and their clothes with red wine.Go for a Shower, smell fresh, but don’t drench yourself in aftershave or cologne, smelling like the inside of a beautician’s handbag is only going to distort your perception of wine aromas and annoy others around you. It’s all about the wine, not you. Most important of all, avoid mouthwash or gum, and leave the cigar until afterwards.
Bring your bus fare! Leave the car at home, if a close friend is coming along don’t let them bring their car either, bring a designated driver to do the driving; I am sure that you all have that one friend who doesn’t drink, target them and seduce them into driving you!Even if you spit every sample you will still absorb minute amounts of alcohol each time that will mount up throughout the day. Another thing to be left at home is all prejudices and attitudes, approach the event with no preconceptions of varietals, brands or names. Allow yourself to be charmed and surprised, most important, make friends, talk to the wine makers, they don’t bite I promise you, I have challenged some myself.
Don’t be overwhelmed or intimidated, I have been to a couple of tastings, most people only have limited wine knowledge but know what they like, basically you are the same.Get your bearings right, look at the room and the catalogue or guide and decide what you want to try. I would suggest starting with a light wine for example, pinot noir and slowly make your way up to the heavy, full bodied Cabernet sauvignon. Wooziness and palate fatigue will inevitably kick in. It might be advised to limit you to 25-30 samples, because it’s impossible to try all the wines. Make sure to try some wines you wouldn’t normally buy.
- Tasting the Wines.
Look professional-hold your tasting glass by the foot or the stem. Don’t rush to the first winery or table and sample everything. Just remember when you were a teenager; was the first boy or girl you danced with at the disco the one you walked home with at the end of the night?. Taste young, dry, unwooded white wines first; they generally look more translucent and lighter in colour. Then deeper coloured older whites afterwards – you will not encounter many of these. For the reds: Start on lighter ruby coloured with lower alcohol then to heavier more opaque and older wines showing a more brick red tone. Make sure to spit as often as possible, otherwise you will get drunk, Be selective, you probably won’t need to taste every single wine on show, talk to producers about the wines as if you were interviewing the wine for a job. Ask about what they don’t volunteer to tell you. Look at the colour and consistency, swirl and sniff, how intense is it, does it smell ok? What does it remind you of? Sip and aerate the wine, suck in air over the wine and coat the inside of your mouth with it. What do you get? Don’t worry about making slurping noises. This will help you remember the important components while tasting wine.So think of the types of people you met on your last holiday; DRY ones, INTENSE ones, BALANCED ones, FRUITY ones and LINGERING ones that just wouldn’t leave you alone! These are the qualities you might appreciate in a wine.When you taste, check through your little list. It may help you recognise some components of the wine. Have a conversation with the wine (in your head). If it doesn’t talk to you, move on!
The beauty of wine is that it can be a multisensory experience. What does it remind you of? Every time I close my eyes and drink a big Australian Shiraz I think of Hugh Jackman from X men. When I drink good South African Cabernet I am reminded of slow dancing and holding my lover close to me! Don’t let anyone tell you how it tastes, you really have to decide that for yourself, your perception of tastes is as individual as your fingerprint and price can be an indication of scarcity rather than quality.
If you are inexperienced at spitting, lower your head over the spittoon and let gravity take the wine. Keep a kerchief with you just in case. Never attempt long range disgorgement. You are not insulting a winemaker by spitting out his wine, but you are complimenting him by swallowing it. Riesling is pronounced; REEZ- ling, try some if you can! Make notes, even if it’s only for the wines you really like. After a long days’ tasting you are unlikely to remember individual wines.
When palate fatigue kicks in, you can stop trying to be serious, drop the act. Your official business for the day is now concluded, but this doesn’t mean you can now go and have a downing competition with your friends.Don’t start buying at the end of the day. The Amygdala and cortex are affected by alcohol which loosens the ability to resist temptation; I have been a victim of such.
Enjoy yourself! Wine tasting is great fun and can be a good opportunity to meet likeminded prospective companions and also learn new perspectives in life and also learn more about yourself.