The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Making the Most of Your Wine Tasting

Posted on | September 24, 2015 | Written by IWM Staff | No Comments

Fiorano_Dinner_Alessia_AntinoriAlmost every Saturday, IWM hosts wine tasting events, and just about every day, we have informal tastings for the staff. We introduce a lot of people to tasting wine for fun and profit, and we taste a lot ourselves. When you go to a tasting, you want to get the most out of it by experiencing it fully and by recalling what you’ve smelled, swallowed and spit.

Rules are for the Weak: We believe there are no real rules.  Wine snobs will tell you that you are doing something wrong or right.  This is false. Wine is an incredibly customizable, very personal experience.  The following tips are just loose guidelines, like the pirate code.  It’s very easy to have a great time at a tasting—and we just want to help you have the best time you can while retaining what you experienced.

Foundation is Key: It is important for perseverance that you have something in your stomach.  The perfect casual meal the morning of a tasting is an egg and cheese on a bagel.  It sounds silly, but it really is a great combination: the eggs keep your body’s metabolism going, and the bagel is a needed boost of carbohydrates. Avoid consuming spicy foods because that will certainly alter the palate. Try not to drink coffee, brush your teeth, drink orange juice, or drink anything but water an hour before the beginning of the tasting. It’s hard, but do your best.

Go with Greige: Preparation is simple, and the mouth and nose should be as neutral as possible–the nose is equally important to the mouth.  Try to avoid smoking at least 30-60 minutes prior to the tasting, and try to avoid any strong smells, as you want your nose to pick up on the subtleties and complexities of the wine.  Also, avoid all perfumes because you—and everyone around you—will smell them and not the wine.  If you find yourself at a tasting having just drunk a shot of espresso, drink a lot of water and eat bread before your first glass. Barring that, rinse your mouth with the lightest, most innocuous wine the event is pouring. Your sommelier will help you out; we’ve all been there.

Embrace Your Inner Gandhi: To maximize the learning experience it is important to approach the wines and judge equally.  Let go of prejudice. You may find that this is the day you find a Riesling you like. It could happen, but only if you free your mind. But it is best to go from fizzy to white to red, and within those categories, from light-bodied to full-bodied wines. If you’re confused, ask your sommelier for direction.

It’s All in the Wrist (and the Schnozz): Start simple with a solid swirl around the glass for a few seconds.  If you’re new to swirling, try doing it with the glass on a flat surface like a coffee table. Swirl, then stick your nose in and take your first whiff.  This is not a make it or break it moment; it’s only a small introduction.  Of course, you can tell whether or not you like the wine immediately, but really understanding takes a little digging. Try taking a sip and suck in a little oxygen so that the wine interacts with a little blast of oxygen on your taste buds.  It is best to swirl, sniff, sip a few times to really pick up on the important subtleties that describe the wines.

Try, Try Again: Challenge yourself to really whiff a little deeper, think a little harder, as it will be easy to imagine yourself in that vineyard, standing on the terroir that defines the liquid in that glass.

It’s Not the MTA: Spitting is fine. Just use the spittoons, and keep napkins handy. Everyone dribbles.

Make Like George Costanza and Do It With Food: Snacks are great when tasting, especially cheeses. Our favorite saying is “If it grows together, it goes together.” Cured meats can be glorious with medium-to-full reds.   Avoid cheeses too high in acidity (like goat cheeses) as it throws off lots of reds.

Imagine All the Questions: Wine tasting is not only a chance to socialize and have fun, but it is the opportunity to directly enjoy the often very painstaking work of an entire wine making team.  Imagine the people you’d drink the wines with  and with what foods you would pair it with.  The person pouring the wines is always full of expert level information about the wines.  Don’t hesitate to ask questions, you’ll learn a lot more this way. Everyone was a beginner once, even that person standing in front of you answering the questions so confidently.

Documents, Please: Every tasting you go to will give you a little booklet for notes. Write down your thoughts. If you find yourself tasting a wine without a booklet, take a picture with your cellphone, jot notes on a smartphone app, or just ask for something to write with. When you write things down—including your impressions—you’ll recall them later.

Take It Home: Don’t just remember what you enjoyed best; experiment with similar wines in the future.  Wine is a living, ever-changing tapestry, and discovering it is an extremely rewarding experience.

Upcoming events include not just IWM NYC’s regular Saturday tastings, but also a very special dinner honoring The Wine Bible and its author, Karen MacNeil, on October 8, 2015.


Leave a Reply