November 02, 2005

First wine-tasting? Here are a few tips.

Wine tastings can be intimidating events. There are the professional swirlers, looking so cool as they go on about malolactic fermentations while twirling the wine in their glass as if it were second nature.

There are the competitive spitters who like to see just how far they can stand from the spit bucket and still make it in.

There are the hard-core geeks who monopolize the conversation with the winemakers on technical topics like number of pump-overs per day and length of cold maceration.

And then there are the winemakers themselves, the people who make the wine that gets 90-point scores, whose houses you've seen in magazines. They are like movie stars; who wouldn't get jittery in their presence?

How to handle it all? Here are some tips from a gal who has been maneuvering through tastings on a regular basis for nine years.

—Spit. Not spitting is a red flag for everyone around you: Either it means you're a neophyte who's afraid of dribbling or you're a lush who wants to get a buzz on. If you don't want to look like either, spit. And, more important, if you want to get the most out of the tasting, spit. You won't remember anything if you get drunk, nor will you be able to taste as much.

—Don't hog the spit bucket. Spit, then move away and let others in.

—Wait your turn at a table, and make room for others when you're standing there. Jostling for space is rude and a great way to get wine all over somebody.

—Expect the pourer to pour only a little bit into your glass. It's just enough for you to get the most out of the scent and take a couple of sips.
Rather than ask for more, take notes. Tastings are learning experiences: The idea is to taste as much as you are interested in (and to try some things you aren't interested in is probably a good idea as well: You might find something new to like). If you don't take notes, you'll have a hard time remembering what you've tasted.

—Remember that winemakers are human. They aren't going to like hearing you say to your friend, "That's disgusting!" any more than you would like it if they said, "Man, these people can't taste their way out of a paper bag." They can hear you on the other side of the table. Remember what your mom told you: If you don't have something nice to say, don't say it.

—Do ask winemakers questions. They are there because they want more people to know about their wine, and they want people to understand it.

—Remember that there are no stupid questions.

—Talk to your fellow wine tasters, even if you don't know them. One of wine's basic joys is how it lubricates social interactions. Take advantage of that quality: You might learn some things about wines or discover some wines you didn't know about. You might even make friends.

—Remember that there's only one really important question with wine: Do you like it? There is no right or wrong answer to that question. It's all about taste.

This article originally appeared in the Denver Post.

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