Not to put too fine a point on it — or encourage excess — but by far the best way to learn about wine is to drink it. And to drink a lot of it.
But not all at one sitting, of course. On the other hand, you can sample a good bit of it at one “standing,” especially if you’re willing and able to spit as you go.
The Twin Cities area has several public tastings every year, and one of the largest unfolds Friday at the Depot in Minneapolis.
In addition, retail outlets seem to have ramped up the number of sampling tables, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, when a savvy consumer basically could use these stops for their happy-hour imbibing before going out to dinner.
But all too often at these pouring events, Minnesota Nice takes a vacation. So here’s a not-to-do-list for public tastings, especially the big ones:
• Don’t wear too much perfume or cologne — and preferably not any. Others will want to sniff the wines, and every glass will smell the same if there’s fragrance in the air.
• Don’t hit on the person pouring the wine. They’re working, and they’re more interested in selling you their wine(s) than in getting your phone number.
• Don’t hesitate to spit (preferably into the bucket). The intent should be to sample a little bit of a lot of wines, not a lot of a few wines. With that in mind:
• Be satisfied with however much is poured. It’s also much more interesting and often more enlightening to sniff a wine when there’s only a small amount in the glass. And don’t be afraid to stick your schnozz deep into the glass to check out the aroma.
• That said, don’t strive to come up with descriptors. Even if you think you’re getting pencil shavings on the nose or kaffir lime on the palate, that’s a parlor game. What’s more important is the texture, the balance, the focus — and most of all, the tastiness — of the wine.
• Don’t have your glass attached to something around your neck. Even George Clooney and Anne Hathaway would look dorky wearing one of those “necklaces.” Plus residue inevitably will slosh onto your shirt. (We klutzes try to remember to wear a red shirt to tastings.)
• Don’t get schnockered. Mix in some water and food early and often. This is not about getting your money’s worth of wine; the experience is part of what you’re paying for, too.
• Don’t finish a pour unless you’re enjoying the wine. If you don’t like the wine, or even sorta-kinda don’t like it, dump it. Ignore the price, no matter how alluring it might be. If you’re not sure if you like it, the wine is worth exactly $0 to you. This is where Minnesota Nice can rear its sweet head at the wrong time, although making a “yuck, what stinks?” face is not advised.
• Don’t just talk; listen. And not just to the pourer but to other attendees. No matter how much you know (or think you know) about malolactic fermentation or native yeasts, there’s plenty to be learned. We’re all on a journey here.
• Don’t automatically start with lighter wines and move up to the “bigger” stuff. Consider reversing that course, trying out some full-bodied stuff and then gravitating toward more sprightly wines that can enliven your palate. This also allows you the option of finishing with Champagne.
Take heed, please
That plays right into my strongest piece of advice, which I consider almost as important as all the previous ones put together:
Always, always, always be aware and considerate of the people around you. Don’t ever hold court or monopolize the pourer’s time when there are people all around you waiting to get some wine. (This is made easier if you’re working your way quickly around the room, a certain regional or varietal at a time.)