Anatomy of a (public) tasting 4 min read

I have attended hundreds of wine tastings, some fantastic, some only above average.


Family Winemakers

Family Winemakers

Any of you who have had a chance to be a part of a major wine event, such as Family Winemakers, ZAP or Rhone Ranges, would attest to a distinct character of the event. Much like the dogs adopt the owner’s personality (or is it the other way around:)? so do wine events, they take on the proverbial persona of the organizer of the event, their spirit permeates the entire scene.


Conversely, there is a distinct impact that the attendees make.


One only has to walk in a room filled with wine glassware as well as various purveyors of wine to sense it…


Come along and help me make a case for wine tasting as an entity with a persona all its own and a distinct profile we can all relate to.


Fort Mason sure springs to mind, larger than life (borderline overwhelming), this venue provides an umbrella for many wonderful and diverse producers.


Yet despite all of those riches the overall experience sometimes gets severely compromised.


As you walk into a room, you have a two-three hour window of opportunity, daunting at best, if you had just a handful producers to wrestle with, let alone 200+…


In a short time frame, amidst a spectacular level of noise we fight for a spot at the table faced with an array of (some enthusiastic, some downright deflated) purveyors. They treat us to their treasures while trying to cram a year’s worth of eventful happenings that resulted in what they are pouring us into a condensed version that sounds something like this: “here is our wine from 100% estate vineyard, we finally kept the grapes for ourselves and our local wine shop really liked and we sold out half of the production, it is quite packed with fruit, what do you think?” (Their secret hope is not hear – “I like red wine and yours is definitely red and not bad at that.”)


Truth be told, some of them seriously would rather be elsewhere. Preferably in their own cellar with a beer…. Shh, don’t tell anyone!


So next time you buy your ticket and put your glass out in front of a dazed vintner behind the table, remember to refrain from:


  • Attempting to embrace the un-embraceable.


(Do pace yourself and try not to rush from one table to another like a mad cartoon character on a mission.)


  • Monopolize the table while others patiently wait.


(I know you are dying to finish telling your fascinating 20 min story of how your cousin brought their wine to your daughter’s birthday party and you thought you liked it… try to stop yourself.)


  • Ask stupid questions, including but not limited to “what is their “best” or most “expensive” wine?” and ask to try only the “best.”

(If that one isn’t self-explanatory, seize reading immediately and surrender your driver’s license and your voter registration card.)


  • Attempt to make a blend of their three vineyards in your glass and espouse on the virtues of it.

(Again, if the request surprises you, see the abovementioned instructions.)


  • Generally try not to expose your lack of awareness should you be guilty of it. Silence can be golden if it covers the plaster of ignorance.


  • And whatever you do, please avoid the temptation to get sauced, it is the most unseemly sight secretly dreaded by nearly every vintner I know.


Seriously I believe the vast majority of you have nothing to do with aforementioned madness, but it sure is fun to poke fun at a few specimens, huh)


On a hugely positive side, it is an unprecedented opportunity to dunk your palate into a plethora of wine you would otherwise never get a chance to try side by side.


Take advantage of it. Pick your favorite variety, producer, appellation. Create your very own “horizontal” tasting on the spot. Do a little research before you come. Know that although the producers aren’t really in the position to chit-chat they are always happy to answer a short, thoughtful question. Use the opportunity to narrow down a handful wines that you really want to know more about… and circle them in your booklet (instead of scribbling notes that you may or may not read later.) Follow the tasting etiquette as much as you can and you will have a blast.


Have fun and don’t forget to be polite and considerate. It works in wine tasting life like the same way it does in real life and we all appreciate it.

Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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