With Mother’s Day upon us, it is a good time to review etiquette. After all, our mothers were the first to teach us about manners, and they certainly would want us to be courteous to our fellow oenophiles.
Practicing a few simple rules of etiquette makes wine tastings a lot more fun for everyone. Tastings are a great way to meet people who enjoy discussing wine and who are happy to share the names of their favorite vintners. The organizer, or host, is often quite knowledgeable, and the information may help you with your future purchases when you need a particular style of wine.
Nothing ruins a wine tasting faster than a person who equates a tasting with a fraternity keg party. Tastings are for learning and appreciating a wine — not for excessive imbibing because the pours are free or have minimal costs. The environment should be relaxed and conversational, not boisterous; tasting rooms often have several groups at once and a lot of loud noise takes away the elegant ambiance that many owners try to achieve.
Although pours at tastings may seem small (usually an ounce or less), they add up because most likely several bottles will be compared. Unless it is going to be a wine pairing with dinner, eat a bite or two before you go. After you arrive, pace yourself accordingly. Drinking water throughout the tasting has several benefits: it prevents you from becoming dehydrated and it clears your palate between wines. It also helps you to pace yourself as the evening wears on.
Heavily scented perfumes and colognes can affect not only your enjoyment of wine but also those around you. In order to appreciate fully the wine’s taste, you need to be able to detect the wine’s subtle aromas, and that is hard to do if you or the person sitting next to you has bathed in Chanel No. 5 or Old Spice. It is your nose, not your tongue, that interprets the wide array of fruit, floral, herbal, and mineral flavors and helps you identify the wine’s components. The aroma actually helps you taste the wine.
Kevin Zraly, founder of the popular Windows on the World Wine School, recommends the following steps for learning about wine, but they also go hand-in-hand with good wine etiquette:
Step One: Look at the color of the wine.
Step Two: Smell the wine three times.
Step Three: Put the wine in your mouth and leave it there for three to five seconds.
Step Four: Swallow the wine.
Step Five: Wait and concentrate on the wine for 60 seconds before discussing it or making an opinion.
Wine etiquette includes taking the time to be contemplative about the wine, and Zraly’s steps certainly help. Be sure to make mental notes and ask questions. Winemakers and wine shop owners love talking about their wines. Take advantage of their expertise to learn more about wines, grape varietals, and even wine regions.
Do not let wine snobs intimidate you. The world of wine is always changing, and no one can ever know all there is to know about wine, although some people think they do. Everyone has a different palate, and it is okay if you like sweet white wines and the person next to you prefers dry tannic reds. The fun comes in learning what makes wine taste the way it does and why you like it.
If you attend wine tastings at a wine shop, be sure to support the business by buying a bottle. This area of Florida is fortunate to have several wonderful wine shops and almost all of them have tastings. Those tastings are their way of driving business and helping to educate people about wines.
Finally, if you are attending a wine tasting, ask a friend to be a designated driver. Most tasting rooms and shops gladly supply soft drinks or bottled water to the designated driver, especially when they have chauffeured several tasters to the event.