The fine art of tasting – and spitting – wine
So much of retail is either stocking or tasting bad wine. Really. I cannot tell you how many mediocre wines I taste to find the gems. Price point doesn’t even matter. Believe it or not, not all $30 wine is good. I am a firm believer that it is next to impossible to truly sell something you are unfamiliar with, and in my case that means wine. So, I taste a lot of wine. Not a bad job, I can hear you saying. And you are right; it is a great job! But, there is a fine art to tasting wine. I can tell you from experience, not everyone in the industry has mastered it.
I recently flew to San Francisco to attend one of my favorite California tastings, Family Winemakers. There are about 400 California wineries showing their wines at this tasting. The key to getting through a show like this, or a normal work day in retail, is to spit. So imagine: There is this great California syrah that you’ve read about, it has had great press, you can never get it because of the press and the fact they only make about 100 cases of it, and there they are.You see them from across the room. You make your way through the throngs of people, glass in hand. As you approach the table, you see there is a line. You wait your turn, avoiding getting bumped into and getting wine spilled on you, until it is your turn to get your glass in front of the one pouring.They have three single vineyard wines and a barrel sample of this current vintage. It is like the Holy Grail to a wine geek (yes, I qualify). You talk to the winemaker about the vintage, the property, the use of oak – all the geeky things you are supposed to talk about. They pour you a sample, you swirl, smell, taste, swish … and then spit. Yep, spit.
This is a learned skill. You don’t want this purple gold to dribble down your chin; the purple teeth are attractive enough. But you cannot leave to spit in private, as you’ll lose your place! Heaven forbid you swallow all these 400 wineries’ offerings. You’d be passed out in a corner somewhere and they’d probably make you help with clean-up when you woke up. So you spit in public. You lean over the throngs of people sticking their glasses out for a little nectar, you try not to dribble or get any on your shirt. (I always wear burgundy to a wine tasting, having learned this the hard way.) Without losing your place, you finesse this move as best you can and return your attention to the charming woman pouring your next taste.
This is a fluid movement – it’s tough to say excuse me with a mouth full of wine. But a trained professional can make it look so easy. You critique the wine while not losing your place in line, getting wine on you, or someone else. At the same time you are taking notes on your findings, continuing an educated and sober conversation with the winemaker, and convincing him that you are exactly the type of retail establishment that his wine belongs in, so can you please get a case or two?This, after all, is the point of a tasting. Finding a wine you love, a wine you want to drink and share with your family and friends. Leaving with some dignity, not stumbling into the door or having a friend say, “Jim, let me drive you home,” remembering where you parked, and, most importantly, remembering the wines you liked, all can be a little easier if you master the fine art of spitting. Everyone reading this will have an opportunity to test their skills at the Hurricane Katrina benefit tasting here in Frisco, Sunday, September 18. I promise not to laugh if you it dribbles down your chin a bit.
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