Study, Sip & Spit: How to survive a mega-wine tasting

When I was a kid, I begged my parents to take me to buffets. My little mind figured that so much food in one gorgefest had to be a good thing. As I got older, and learned the unsettling facts of Germ Theory and the like, the hygiene factor got in the way of my buffet enthusiasm.

Wine buffets are another story.

Wine tastings have boomed in recent years, as nonprofits realize how many people want to get drunk with an excuse… er… conscience. But these large tastings pose another kind of problem – the sheer number of wines to taste. This abundance begs the question: How does one navigate such copious amounts of wine without ending up face down in the spit bucket?

What you need is a plan – which will include some calculated spitting. I know it seems anathema to spit out perfectly good wine, but if you’re trying to taste as many wines as possible, this is a necessary, albeit disgusting, evil.(But first things first: Read this post on wine tasting etiquette.)

Before getting drawn into the liquid smorgasbord, study the brochure the friendly volunteer gave you at the door. Look for familiar wineries, then ignore them – you paid big money to taste different stuff, right?

Most of the time, the larger tastings are organized by distributor and then winery, which helps industry politics, but not necessarily the consumer looking to plan. There will be a mishmash of wines everywhere, so you’ll have to dive into the pool and see what treasure you find. Start with white wine, since dousing your palate with reds will dull your tongue to white wine’s delicate flavors. If you’re into Sauvignon Blanc — likely the lightest of the wines available  — scout those out first. If you like that winery’s offering, try its other whites. Then move to the next winery with a Sauvignon Blanc. Once you’ve tired of whites or just want to taste dark stuff, move to reds. Dessert wines like port should be left to the last round, since the sweetness can also dull your tongue for other wines. If you sense your tastebuds starting to numb, use sparkling wine and bread to revive your tongue.

Keep in mind that wine tastings aren’t Spring Break all-you-can-drink events, so don’t feel compelled to finish the serving, especially if you don’t like it. You won’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

And a tip for those people trying to look savvy: Don’t rinse your glass out with water after every taste. Not only does it make you look like an amateur – professionals rinse with wine, if anything, and usually only if returning to whites after reds – it wastes time and waters down the subsequent wine. Don’t let the people behind the table do it to you either. Some wineries don’t want to waste wine for rinsing, which is understandable, but watering down the wine won’t give you the full effect of the wine’s flavor.

Be sure to make notes about wines that intrigue you – it helps, especially after you’ve been sloshing for a couple of hours. You won’t remember the wine labels clearly in the next morning’s haze, I assure you.

A word of boring responsibility: After these big tastings, at least 75 percent of the partygoers are not ready for the wheel. So be responsible and take a cab, or designate a driver. DUIs cost about $5,000 these days…


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