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spit or swallow? Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Making the Most of a Wine Tasting Event

tasting_eventAlthough heavily geared towards industry professionals, wine tastings are often open to the general public. This presents an excellent opportunity for those not in the business to taste a large number of wines at one time, while learning about unfamiliar grape varietals or wine regions — often directly from the winemakers themselves.  The average Jo(e), however, doesn't necessarily attend a number of these events, and so s/he may be unprepared on how to make the most of the experience.

First and foremost, although it's stating the obvious, a wine tasting involves alcohol. Lots of it.  And that means there's a high potential for intoxication.  Lots of it.  And the thing is, unlike sitting in a restaurant or wine bar, with an entire glass of wine in front of you, it's very hard to gauge how much you're actually taking in during a tasting — the typical pour is only about one ounce.  Given that, here are some things I would strongly recommend to the casual taster to make sure that the alcohol doesn't get the best of you:

  • Eat. The best thing you can do is to eat shortly before arriving.  The food in your stomach, as you may already know, will slow down your absorption of alcohol.  Also, at most public tastings there will be small spreads of finger food, bread and cheese in the very least.  Partake in these offerings — especially the bread, since it acts like a sponge to soak up the alcohol in your stomach.
  • Spit. Among the uninitiated, the very thought of spitting wine can be perplexing: why on earth would you want to do such a thing with delicious wines that you've paid to taste?  The simple answer is that if you're serious about tasting wines — and not there with the primary intention of imbibing and cavorting with abandon — then it's impossible to ingest so much as a fraction of the amount being poured without getting flat-out drunk and frankly quite sloppy.  That said, spitting itself can be messy.  But most events offer plastic cups which are specifically meant to be used as personal containers into which you can spit discreetly, and then pour the contents into provided spittoons.
  • Hydrate. Even if you spit absolutely everything you taste (an ascetic expectation for all but the most disciplined professional), alcohol will be absorbed through the pores in your mouth and tongue.  In a situation wherein you're tasting a lot of wines, that can amount to a lot!  Therefore, it's important to stay hydrated: partake in the bottled water you're sure to see being offered.

Aside from keeping intoxication at bay, here are some other things to help you make the most of a wine tasting experience:

  • Keep it courteous. Oftentimes, it can be a bit of a challenge getting to the front of a serving table to get a wine poured in your glass.  After all, everyone else is there for the same reason.  Resist the temptation to jostle, slither, nudge, or elbow — and please don't throw fists or pull hair — in order to get access to a wine sample.  Go on to the next table, and come back when the gathering has thinned out.
  • Keep it camouflaged. At a tasting event, wine is everywhere.  But accidents happen and red wine can make for a bitch of a stain.  Prevent this from spoiling your evening by wearing dark clothing.  Ultimately, though, if you absolutely insist on debuting that fabulous creme-colored number, at least have a bottle of Wine Away waiting in the wings (it's nothing short of miraculous at getting out wine stains).
  • Keep it curious. This is really the whole point of being there; a wine tasting is not a wine bar.  Rather than conversing only among your friends, use the opportunity to learn about wine: engage the wine representatives (often the winemakers themselves) about the very thing they're pouring.  Don't be afraid to ask questions; the reps are eager to share what they know, especially if they're personally responsible for producing that wine in your glass.  They know that an educated and enlightened consumer is more likely to buy their wines.

And finally, don't be a Label Mabel.  Instead of focusing so much on individual producers you most enjoyed (presumably with the intent on seeking out their wines in retail shops) keep it simple: use the opportunity simply to get a general idea of the style of the wine region(s) or grape varietal(s) being represented.  Your energy is best exerted in searching for similar or comparable wines, rather than for the ones you specifically tasted. end

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