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Wine Tasting Etiquette: The Basic Do's and Don'ts

Wine Tasting Etiquette: The Basic Do's and Don'ts
by Michael Davey © 2013

Mid-year is tasting time for the wine retailer in Melbourne, my home city. The winemakers are off the leash as vintage has been completed and they come to the big smoke to pour their wares.

Being the ever diligent wine retailer I do go to a spread of these events.
Therefore how to taste wine for the best possible evaluation is a very important part of my job, as my clients - some of them I hope - rely on me for sound advice as to what of the new vintages are worth their salt. What to drink short term and what to cellar are important concerns - and I have been putting wines in many of the same client’s cellars for over thirty years plus - ouch, that is frightening number to have written!

Recent experience at a number of these tasting events has given me the impetus to come up with my tips on the do’s and do not’s of wine tasting.

Do not go to a wine tasting smelling like the perfume counter at the local department store. Perfume, colognes and lipstick all cloud the olfactory system, not just of the wearers whom usually seem oblivious to their aroma but of all the other tasters who have to endure the suffocating pong.

If there is a room of thirty plus wines, which is on the conservative side quantity wise of a few of the recent tasting events I have attended, (one had over 250 wines available to taste) - do not taste everything! If you do you will not only have a scrambled brain but more than likely scrambled tasting notes.

Do spit, as even with a small taste of a number of wines you are going to cloud your brain a wee bit. Even when spitting you are receiving a bit of alcohol as it is absorbed in the mouth.  A colleague and I at a recent tasting were standing next to two obviously "under the weather” tasters. Having tasted a full bodied Shiraz they then went on to taste of one the country’s finest Rieslings, enough said.

Do not skip outside for quick smoke, not just for the smoker’s palate but more importantly the other tasters. Remember you stink!

Do not, as I witnessed at a recent tasting of Spanish wines, go from tasting a Fino to Amontillado to an Oloroso and then a PX sherry and onto an Alberino.  What these people were smelling and tasting had me scratching my head, but I am pretty certain that it had nothing to do with Alberino.

Do use your nous when tasting, do not start with the latest vintage Shiraz/Syrah. Start with sparkling dry white wines and then go through the white wines from light styles to the broader, full bodied varieties. Follow with reds, the lighter styles through to the robust varieties and the fortified wines last.

Do have some bread, dry biscuits and some water whilst tasting, it helps after a few tastes to freshen up the palate.  Do rinse your glass with water when moving from the whites to the reds.

Do go with an idea of what specific varieties you are interested in. If you are a private buyer and have your cellar full with Pinot’s that are going to cover you for the next half a dozen years, look for other varieties you enjoy as you may have some holes to fill. And if you are retailer with a stack of Pinot to move, ditto.

Do use a simple scoring system while tasting – a quick out of 20 works for me. Taste the wines you have an interest in and then go back and revisit the ones that you scored the highest and do your tasting notes – and do the whites before the reds!

Do taste age before youth if there are back vintages of a wine on tasting. This is usually a sound policy although there are times a winemaker may suggest you try a new vintage out of the normal order.

Do take into account the quality of glassware used at the tasting. This usually, one would hope, will be a quality vessel. There is also the wine dinner where a vineyard or wholesaler offer their wares with food and more often than not high quality and purpose built (for different varieties and styles) glassware will be used. These glasses make ordinary wine taste good, good wine better and great wine extraordinary.  So if you normally drink out of a vegemite jar - beware the wine that tasted good!

Finally, one definite do for those people showing their wines. Do check your wine when opening a new bottle for tasting. At a recent tasting I attended a vineyard representative was exposing the virtues of a wine to a couple of tasters. I helped myself to a taste, had a sniff, the wine that was sealed with cork was putrid with cork taint. Half the bottle had already been used for tasting, and yes, I did inform him!

It's easy to go to a wine tasting armed with the knowledge to get the most out of the experience. No matter what wine variety you are looking for, from a Pinot Noir to a Sauvignon Blanc, Michael Davey from WineSeek can help. Visit http://www.wineseek.com.au for a great selection of Australian and international wines at remarkable prices.

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