(Photo: with Baroness Philippine de Rothschild)
-By Ranjith Chandrasiri-
Wine tasting events are popular because they override the limitations of sampling wine alone, at home. How many wines can you taste on your own unless you don’t mind throwing away nine tenth of every bottle? How many wines are you willing to buy on your own? And how much can you learn tasting wine on your own or with few friends whose expertise is no greater than yours?
Wine tastings organized by wine clubs, merchants and wine societies are events designed to give wine enthusiasts the opportunity to sample a range of wines. These events can be seminar like events (seated) or they can be more like parties (tasters milling around informally). Compared to a wine appreciation class, the participants at a wine tasting event are more likely to have various levels of knowledge. Tastings don’t come in beginner, intermediate and advanced levels – just one size fits all.
At a wine tasting, you can learn from the professionals who organize the event as well as from your fellow tasters. You have the added advantage of making new friends who share your interest in wine. Most importantly, you can taste wine in the company of some individuals whose palates are more likely to be experienced than yours, which is a real boon in training your palate. I have led and attended literally hundreds of wine tastings and I can honestly say that I have learned something about wine at almost all of them.
If you have never been to a wine tasting, don’t feel intimidated. Familiarizing yourself with few wine tasting etiquettes will help you feel more at ease. Otherwise you are likely to be appalled when you see people slurping and spiting in public.
Why are those people behaving like that?
Do you have to make loud slurping or gurgling noise that you hear “serious” wine tasters make at tastings? Of course, you don’t. But the drawing of air into your mouth does enhance your ability to taste the wine. With a little practice, you can gurgle without making loud, attention-grabbing noises.
To spit or not to spit?
If you swallow every sip of wine you taste, by the time you reach wine number nine or ten, you will be far less sober to make a judgment about the wine. So spitting is acceptable. In wineries, professional tasters sometime spit right onto the floor or into the drains. In more elegant surroundings, you spit into a spittoon, usually a simple container like a large bowl (one per taster) or an ice bucket that two or three tasters share.
At first, naturally, some tasters are reluctant to spit out wine. Not only have they been brought up to believe that spitting is uncivilized, but they have also paid good money for the opportunity to taste the wine. Why waste them?
Well, you can drink all of your wine at a wine-tasting if you wish – and some people do. But I don’t advise that you do, for the simple reason that evaluating the later wines will be difficult if you swallow the earlier ones, as the alcohol you consume will cloud your judgment.
More finer points on tasting etiquettes
Smoking is a complete no-no at any wine tasting and using strong scents – perfume, aftershave and scented hair spray are undesirable as these smells can interfere with your ability to detect the aromas of the wine.
Courteous wine tasters also do not volunteer their opinion about a wine until other tasters have had a chance to taste the wine. Serious tasters like to form their opinion independently and are sure to throw dirty looks at anyone who interrupts their concentration prematurely.