Hopefully, by now you’ve been convinced that wine tasting is a good idea. Here are a few ground rules to follow once you’re there. These are simply recommendations to help you (and everyone else) have the best experience possible. They will also help you make a good impression on the hosts, should you decide to attend on a regular basis.
1. Take an interest in the wines. Ask questions – there are no bad ones. Basic information, like what country the wine is from, what vintage and what varietal(s) it is composed of, should be given by the pourer, along with some tasting notes (which you may or may not agree with), but there is so much more to know. While you sip, let your curiosity out to play.
If you like a wine, try to articulate why, and ask questions to help you figure out how it might relate to other wines you like. (Is the region hot or cold, wet or dry? Oak barrels or steel? Old vines or young?). If you don’t like it, do the opposite. This will help you find patterns in your taste palate and learn how to pronounce wine terms correctly. (Silly French and their silent letters!) Asking questions will also clue you in to the knowledge level and affiliation of the person pouring your wine. They might be an employee or the store owner, or they could be a representative from a wine distributor or even the vineyard itself. It doesn’t take long to start to recognize the people who really know their stuff. Building a rapport with the men and women behind the table is an excellent way to learn more about wine as well as making friends.
As a side note: If you’re young in appearance (and especially if you’re in college), showing that you know and care about wine goes a long way toward convincing the people running the tasting that you aren’t there to “pre-game” for a party later.
2. Be conscious of others. Remember, you aren’t the only people there (unless you are, in which case by all means monopolize the experts). Avoid being loud or crowding around the table or counter for long periods of time. If you want to have a conversation with the wine pourer, stand to one side so as to allow others to reach the wine. If it is particularly busy, don’t forget you can also look to your more knowledgeable tasting pals for insight.
3. Rinse between red and white. It’s generally a good idea to taste in order from whites to reds. If there are multiple tables, however, it’s sometimes necessary (or even desirable) to go back and forth. There is usually water provided to rinse glasses; if not, ask. Red residue can completely blot out the taste of a delicate white, especially if the red is an old wine that has begun to form sediment. Plus, some of the more fastidious vintners will actually be offended if you don’t.
4. Agree to disagree. Wine is a many-headed beast – everyone experiences it differently. So don’t be surprised (or hurt) if at some point you like a wine and your friend thinks it tastes like sewage. There are any number of reasons for this, including acid content, sugar level, or a sensitivity to a certain flavor. Discuss the aspects you differed on – this will help both of you understand your own tastes more.
5. Designate a driver. This is always a good idea when alcohol is involved: be certain of who is driving home. This is not to suggest that you all can’t enjoy the tasting – small amounts of wine won’t incapacitate most people. If you’re unsure of how many wines are going to be offered, someone may need to volunteer to “go easy”.
6. Be open-minded. You shouldn’t expect that every tasting will feature your favorite type of wine. Remember, the whole idea is to try new things.