Posts Filed Under wine tasting
Everyone makes mistakes. In the case of the Dude here, mistake frequency is pretty much daily. Thankfully, almost every mistake is an opportunity to learn.
Fortunately for you, the Dude here has made plenty of mistakes when it comes to drinking and appreciating wine. That means that you don’t have to make all of those same mistakes, my friend! You can thank me later (preferably with a bottle or two of `82 Mouton…).
Anyway – following are Top 5 of the most common mistakes in wine drinking and wine appreciation that I’ve come across (or made myself) during my life dabbling in the wine biz. Hopefully these help you to avoid the same…
- The Over-pour. Far and away, the most common mistake that I’ve seen is over-pouring wine into your wine glass. Believe it or not, being skimpy in this case is not being wimpy – pouring the right amount of wine is what you need to do to allow you to really enjoy the wine in your glass.
Filling that glass to the brim is being generous only in the extra amount of calories that you’re consuming. It’s a killer for wine enjoyment because a) it prevents the wine’s aromas from being concentrated towards your nose (where they belong), b) it prevents you from swirling the wine in your glass (which releases those wonderful aromas and flavors in the first place) and c) it makes you much more likely to spill your wine (and you probably paid good money for it!).
At this point you’re probably thinking, “Wait a second Dude – waiters do the Over-pour all the time in restaurants. What am I supposed to do about that?” Simple: ask for a second (empty) wine glass. Now you have two glasses of wine that you can fill properly (which basically means filling to the bowl shape of the glass and not beyond). You’re welcome!
“Filling that glass to the brim is being generous only in the extra amount of calories that you’re consuming.”
- Serving wine at the wrong temperature. Wine that is too cold will taste dull, with subdued fruit characteristics. Wine that is served too hot will taste astringent and will highlight the alcohol above the other flavors in the wine.
In a word – Yuck.
Now, you don’t need to be too anal about this one, but to get the most out of your wine, you do need to get the wine temperature in the right ballpark – and the right ballpark is different depending on they type of wine you’re trying to enjoy. Sweet whites and sparklers usually stand up to the coldest temperatures; hefty reds like Zinfandel and Port can withstand the highest temps. For more specific information, check out this handy chart of wine serving temps from recipetips.com.
- End-Bin shopping. What does “End-Bin shopping” mean? It means shopping only at those flashy, special displays at the end of the aisles in wine stores. Why is this a mistake? Because the end bins are sometimes where good wines go to die.
If you already know the wine and think it’s a good buy, then you may have found a good deal in that end-bin. While it’s certainly possible to catch a great bargain, I’ve also seen on many, many occasions wines that are woefully past their prime stuck into the end-bin at steep “discounts”. Don’t totally ignore those end-bins – but it’s a big mistake to make those the only stops on your foray through the wine store.
“…the end bins are sometimes where good wines go to die…”
- Ignoring the sauce. There are few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to wine and food matching. I only really offer people two rules: 1) Match the “weight”/body of the food with the weight/body of the wine (lighter wines with lighter fare, heftier wines with heartier fare) and b) Don’t ignore the sauce!
A thick, flavorful sauce can turn a lighter dish into a heavy monster of a meal. So, if you’re pairing a lighter wine with that heavier sauce, you might not ever get to really taste that wine, as it will get totally overpowered. Epicureans take note!
- Not doing any homework. You by no means need to have fancy-schmansy wine certifications to appreciate wine. But a little knowledge about wine styles and wines from different areas of the world can arm you with a very important weapon when it comes to wine enjoyment: Context.
What do I mean by context? I mean knowing what some of those wines typically taste like, and what foods are typically enjoyed with them. This allows you to avoid a whole heap of mistakes when it comes to wine appreciation, because it means you’re more likely to taste the wine in its proper context. Someone can tell you that they hate Italian wines – and if that person tried those wines with super-spicy Thai food instead of Italian cuisine, they’re probably not giving that poor Italian wine a fighting chance to be liked!
Grab yourself a book and get in some wine learning. Take a wine class, practice your tasting, or host a wine tasting party. The important thing is to keep an open mind about wine, and be willing to learn – in terms of helping you avoid the most common wine drinking foibles, those two things will never let you down.
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In a mere 2 1/2 weeks, my infant daughter has taught me a lot about life – how fragile, strong, miraculous, and “gritty” it can be, sometimes all at once.
What I didn’t expect is that she would also teach me something about wine appreciation.
Now, before you go running for the phone to report me for child abuse, I’m not feeding this kid any vino.
What I’m talking about is watching her eat (er, is it “drink” right now?). It’s actually made me reflect a bit on how we (as adults) normally eat and drink in our crazy, not-enough-minutes-in-the-day kind of world.
And I can sum it up in three little words…
SLOW DOWN, BABY.
Actually, you can even shorten it down to two words (SLOW DOWN), for those of you who are really, really busy.
My daughter (more or less) waits until she is pretty hungry, makes her “hungry face” (which consists of her sticking out her tongue and flailing her head around looking for a waiting nipple), then latches on and starts sucking and gulping like a crazed, wild animal. She does stop to breathe – but only when she has to. Or when we burp her (those burps would finish her in the top 5 in any beer-guzzling bar burping contests, by the way).
And you know what? Daddy isn’t much better.
I eat 4 to 5 meals a day, trying to load the calories up in the AM and gradually lighten my food intake so that dinner is usually a small-ish meal. When I eat lunch, I’m usually in the middle of something else. Instead of being “in the moment” and enjoying the food, I gulp i down as if it were the only meal I would receive that week and someone will come to snatch it away from me
if I’m not finished “eating” it in 5 minutes or less.
Watching my lil’ bundle of joy has made me realize that this is probably not the most mature way to ensure I’m getting the right amount of conscious enjoyment – not to mention nutritional value – out of my meals.
If I used the same approach to appreciating wine, I wouldn’t even taste it, let alone be able to evaluate its aromas, or enjoy any lingering finish that a great wine has to offer!
Let’s get to the nitty-gritty and summarize.
On the winding road of life, watching how an infant eats can show us what (not) to do to really appreciate our wine (and our food):
1) Slow Down (Baby)
Take your time. There is no reason to rush that glass down your throat. Look at the wine. Smell the wine. Check out the colors of the wine in your glass. Swirl it and smell it again. Get to know the wine a little bit – after all, you’re going to be putting it into your body, if nothing else you should make sure it’s something that you really want in there!
2) Be In The Moment
Think about the wine and its aromas and flavors. Don’t think about all the things you need to get done tomorrow, whether or not you think the restaurant’s veggies will be overly-buttered, if the baby-sitter is eying up your beer (OK, maybe you should worry about that last one), etc.
3) Don’t Forget To Pause – and Breathe
Once a glass of wine is poured, wine needs air to really show its stuff. And you need air, too. To clear your mind, help you focus, and remind you to pause and actually live and enjoy each moment of life. And each glass in your hand.
I’ve been getting some reader feedback that the various items we’ve got for sale via 1WineDude.com are arranged in a, let’s just say, less than optimal fashion.
Another way of putting it, is that the current layout is too friggin’ confusing! So I’m offering this post to (hopefully) help clear up the confusion.
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Booth babes. Row upon row of free alcohol to sample, some of it top notch. Hobnobbing with local wine celebs (e.g., Marnie Old).
Man, the lengths I will go to give me readers a decent story!
I was recently (in Q4 2007) asked by a local restaurant / wine bar to help them out an industry tasting event, held in downtown Philadelphia (i.e., sample some wines, help determine what they should be serving up in the near future).
This particular event was hosted by Southern Wine & Spirits of Pennsylvania. SWS is one of the major suppliers of wine brands to the PA Liquor Control Board (the state-run monopoly that controls alcohol sales and distribution within PA). PA is the only state-controlled market in which SWS operates; that’s because when you’re a big supplier, you simply cannot argue with the billions of dollars at stake that are controlled by PA’s potentially unconstitutional monopoly.
So what’s it like to attend one of these events? Read on, dear reader, reader on…
First, these big portfolio tastings typically take place at a swanky location. In this case, it was the Crystal Tea Ballroom (which I’d just visited a few weeks prior for the Gravedigger’s Ball in support of the Laurel Hill Cemetery).
There are, literally, a dozen or more rows of tables, each hosted by a winery, distributor, or importer who have their portfolio available for tasting. Most of these tables are staffed by young salespeople (“booth babes”), and are visited by equally young and beautiful sales reps, occasionally punctuated by a local wine celeb., or a wine geek (such as the Dude here).
There is a lot of sipping. There is a lot of tasting. There is a lot of handshaking. There is a lot of note-taking, smiling, and photo-shooting.
What there is not a lot of, is spitting – despite the proliferation of buckets provided specifically for that purpose. And that means there is a lot of drunken buzz happening at the end of the evening. In no way am I picking on SWS here – I’m pretty sure that this scenario would play out at any similar industry event (isn’t that one of the reasons why people want to get into sales in the first place?).
Personally, Dude was doing very well – at first – and enjoying the excellent wines on display (particularly the Quintessa, as well as possibly the greatest array of Champagnes I’ve ever had the pleasure of comparing). Doing well, that is, until late in the event, when one of the booth babes grabbed our group and ushered us through the vodka section – where we capped off a series of rapid-fire tasting with shots of vodka that ran in excess of $200 a bottle.
I’m the 1WineDude, not the ‘ManyVodkasDude’. My party spent the latter part of the evening stumbling around City Hall, looking for bar food to quell our munchies, and trying to remember our names.
If you ever find yourself invited to one of these events, how best to survive the experience?
Get there early. The event will eventually get packed, and it’s probably going to be big. You will want to scope out the areas of most interest to you, and pace yourself based on the amount of time that you have to spend there.
Map out your plan of attack. This is the benefit of an early arrival – you can plan out exactly what booths you want to visit before the crowds arrive, start imbibing, and generally make the scene more confusing for you. I suggest dividing up the booths into categories such as “Must See”, “B Priority”, and “Will Check Out If Time Permits.” That way, you try the things you and/or your employer are most interested in, and save the rest for a more relaxed run-through afterwards.
Don’t Ignore the Little Guys. You will find wine brands that you’d not known about before, and you will like some of them. You should expect a handful of “ah-ha!” moments with some of the lesser-known producers – and they may be exactly what you’re looking for to pair with your restaurant’s newest dish, etc.
Take quick tasting notes, but not too many. You will NOT have time to write lengthy tasting notes. Recording some details is essential, but I’d recommend planning on writing one sentence (or less) on each wine you taste. Stick to the basics and record just enough info. that you will be able to make sense of it the next day.
Remember that Sex Sells. All salespeople and advertisers worth their salt know this. You will be bombarded by beautiful people. Remember, you’re there to taste wine, not award your or your company’s money to the distributor that has the best-looking staff.
Don’t Forget to Spit. Well… duh! I’m not saying don’t enjoy a full glass of a killer cab on display. But I am saying that if you don’t spit, you will get hammered – probably not the best way to make an impression at an industry event.
If possible, carpool. Even when you spit, you absorb some alcohol through the tops and sides of your mouth. Eventually, it’s going to impair your tasting judgment, especially at an event where there is so much tasting to be performed. This is why you should hit your highest priority / must-see booths first, take quick notes, and probably try to carpool (or take public transportation) when your tasting event is over. Safety first, as they say.