Guest blog from wine slinger Ben Hilzinger
Anyone from the smelly shmuck sitting beside you on the bus to the overworked soccer mom behind you in line at the shopping mall would agree that in order to taste wine, you must drink it first. Not everyone, however, understands that drinking doesn’t necessarily mean tasting. For those who do know the difference, wine tasting, as an event, can be very intimidating. Ever since a banished, suicidal harem to the King of Persia drank a bottle of spoiled grapes labeled “poison” only finding the effects changing her mood completely, winemakers have allowed customers to sample and/or taste their wines. Many young people, including myself at one point, find the whole ordeal to be comedic, pretentious and aimed towards high-class folk with a dictionary full of terms and references to pull out their bums proving they know a thing or five. Don’t believe this! If one has the ability to enjoy drinking wine, one has the equal ability to enjoy wine tasting. Here are a few helpful hints to those anxious first-time tasters that will hopefully make the experience more enjoyable and allow you to get the most of out every minute!
1. Check business hours!
There’s little more embarrassing than setting time aside to go to the tasting room of your choice only to be greeted with a locked door and the inevitable “@$#!” moment. You’ve already made the first step; don’t dampen your spirits by feeling more out-of-place by messing up the hours. Most wineries are open 12-5 on weekends with many open on weekdays as well.
2. Buddy system
This is the Boy Scout in me talking, but don’t go alone! Wine tasting should be an occasion shared with a friend, and who better to compare verbal notes with than someone you know. No one behind the counter should ever tell you what you WILL taste (I find it to be condescending), but talking with a friend about what you DO taste will make you more confident and willing to make more judgments for yourself. Did I mention it is one of the best afternoon date ideas?
Throw any preconceived notions about the wine out the window because high or low expectations will ruin everything. Don’t expect to be blown away, but don’t always rely on what you think you already know; the experts tend to do this from time to time reinforcing the popularity of blind tastings among the elite. A great deal of passion and hard work is put into every wine you’ll taste so taking the time to listen to what the employee has to say (whether it be history, knowledge about the varietal, and/or reasons the winemaker chose the grapes he did) will make the experience uber times more satisfying.
4. Know the five S’s of wine tasting
- See-inspect the wine for color, legs, viscosity…this will make you look cool, I promise.
- Swirl-oh yes, the swirl that every outsider sees as useless and, perhaps, the most pretentious part about wine-tasting. It coats the inside of the glass causing more surface area for the wine to flirt with the air and, ultimately, allowing the aroma to smack you in the face.
- Sniff-Don’t sip yet!!!! Whew, did I catch you? The nose will tell you more about the wine than ANYTHING ELSE. Trust me; take a good 15 seconds just smelling the wine before you ever let it touch your palate. Most tastes are going to spill their beans in the nose.
- Sip-Ok, now drink! Let it coat your entire tongue and suck in some oxygen ever so softly. Mimicking gum-chewing works best for me to bring out the most flavors.
- Savor-Close your eyes and enjoy. This, of course, is the plot of the entire movie! Now to spit or swallow is another question for another day. Keep those minds clean!
The worker pouring the wine is there for a reason, so bombard them with questions and if they give you lip just tell them I said it was ok. Most, if not all people involved in the wine industry are there because they love everything that IS wine. I’ve never met a wine worker who rolls there eyes at any sort of inquiry. The more you ask the more you’ll know (thanks ma!).
All in all, no expert can tell you what you will or won’t like because only YOU can truly make that decision. In the same token, no one should ever make you feel like you don’t belong at a tasting. Recently, I walked into a local winery with some tattered jeans and shirt I bought from Value Village only to be written off as just another frat boy looking for a mid-afternoon buzz. I knew my place, however, and within minutes of asking enough of the right questions about the wine (and using the five S’s), the man changed his tone completely. You were born to be wine-lover! Support you local wine scene and taste at every single place you can!
Ben Hilzinger is a wine slinger at Nectar Tasting Room and at the Arbor Crest Winery. During the day he masquerades at Lindeman’s bistro and coffee shop on Spokane’s South Hill. In the evening Ben dons his rock star cape as a drummer for a local band. Ben hopes to share the love of wine with his generation and has aspirations to be a wine maker.