Food and Wine: The Hows of Wine Tasting

Graham Rankin, our Wine and Food expert, has offered this blog entry to start his series in exploring the tastes found in the area where you travel.

“Food without wine is a corpse; wine without food is a ghost; united and well matched they are as body and soul, living partners.”  Andre Simon (1877-1970)

Wine tasting has a lot of jargon and ‘snobbishness’ associated with it which is totally unnecessary. Like art, what is ‘good’ depends on the individual. Just like art, if you like it, it is good, if you don’t, it may be good in the eyes of someone else, but you don’t have to buy it.

One way to learn about wine is to go to tastings, particularly at wineries. Of course, the purpose of the tasting is to encourage you to buy the wine. There is no getting around that! However, if the person serving is knowledgeable (most are, at least about their wines), they will ask about your prior experience and preferences. Some people prefer wines that are more on the sweet side, while others prefer less sweet wines, generally referred to as ‘dry’. Generally wines with more residual sugar (sweet) are better for drinking by themselves or with a sweet dessert (dessert wines) whereas dry wines (little or no residual sugar) go better with food.

You will be given small amounts of each wine, one at a time, usually starting with dry white wines, followed by dry reds, and then ending with sweet wines. Take only a sip, swirl it around in the mouth. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to drink it all. In fact the ‘pros’ (wine critics or buyers for wine distributors) rarely swallow, but spit it out. There will be a bucket to dump out the excess and water to rinse your mouth between wines. Some have some crackers or bread to also help ‘cleanse the pallet’ between wines. The server will describe the wine, what grapes if is made from, the fermentation process, aging time in oak or stainless, etc. As you taste it, think about what flavors it reminds you of. Some grape wines, have a distinctive flavor of citrus, others of grape jam or a host of other flavors. I have a poster in my kitchen listing 60 different ‘flavors’ and that is only the start! Remember everyone’s taste buds are different. I may think it tastes like one thing, you of another. Am I right because I have tasted a lot of wines and you are a novice? Not really, we are just different.

Depending on the winery, tastings may be free, or require a modest charge ($5 is typical). This may be a requirement of the local liquor laws (Ohio requires a minimum of 25 cents per taste) or a way to offset the costs of folks who have no intention of buying anything. You may get your tasting fee off any purchase or get a souvenir wine glass – just depends on the winery.

If you buy two or more bottles, you will probably get a heavy cardboard carrier to protect the bottles as well as making them easier to carry. Most wineries have a case discount of around 10% for 12 bottles or more – usually allowing a mixed case.

One word of warning: if you are flying, you will need to put your wine in your checked luggage. If you are buying a case, ask the winery about shipping it for you. On one trip to the West Coast, we bought a special shipping container that held 12 bottles in Styrofoam liners so we could combine wines from a number of wineries and check it thru to our home (this was before the checked bag fees!). A case of wine weighs less than 50 pounds so it will cost just the usual ‘extra bag’ fee. If your airline has high checked bag fees, it may be cheaper to have the winery ship it to you (or you ship it yourself via FedEx or UPS)

A satisfied taster

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