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Three Wine Tasting Sins

15 September 2017

At a charming little tasting room I recently visited in the Pacific Northwest, I found myself feeling quite irritable, despite the good quality of the wines. To be fair, the woman pouring was new and nervous and just doing her best. But the three sins that she committed during the tasting have been committed time and time again by wine representatives far more experienced than she.

With the annual Wine Bloggers Conference fast approaching, it seemed an opportune moment to describe these three behaviors, since they happen with some regularity at each conference. Wine presenters, I assure you that I’m not the only one irritated by the experiences below.

Most egregious: Feeding me tasting notes

I get it — you’re excited about the wine, and perhaps you even made it. Perhaps you worked really hard to develop its complexity, and it makes sense that after putting all that work into the wine, you want me to appreciate its nuances. Sales representatives, too, doubtless feel motivated to make sure I don’t miss the rich blackberry fruit or the tobacco on the finish or whatever. Or if you’re new to the game, it makes sense that you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, and that you can pick out gooseberry notes with the best of them.

Don’t do it. Let the wine speak for itself. If, before I’ve tasted the wine, I’m told that it exhibits notes of pears and lime and oak, it’s awfully difficult to get that out of my head and decide for myself what it tastes like. And I really want to decide for myself. I’m happy to discuss what the wine is like after I’ve tasted it and made some notes. In fact, I love doing exactly that. But getting a tasting note in advance of tasting makes my job that much harder.

Yes.

Almost as bad: Talking while I’m tasting.

To be clear, I have no problem with wine presenters talking to other people near me while I’m tasting. Chat away! But please don’t talk to me.

I’ve only been writing this blog since 2011, and I still need to concentrate if I’m going to write anything useful about a wine’s character in my notebook. If you’re trying to give me facts about the vinification or the terroir while the wine is in my mouth (or worse, telling me what it tastes like), you can count on me not retaining a word you say. Sometimes people even ask me questions before I’ve had a chance to spit the wine out, and I’m never sure how they expect me to answer. If I’m going to appreciate the wine and all its flavor nuances, I need to focus on it for a moment.

Spitting brings me to my third wine tasting sin: Providing poorly designed spit buckets.

Those of you fortunate enough to swallow most of the wine that ends up in your mouth may wonder what on earth I’m talking about. When tasting wine, I spit almost all of it out. It sounds disgusting, and perhaps even disrespectful to the wine, and I admit it is a little of the former. But if I visit, say, three wineries in a day, and swallow all those little tastes, I’ll be drunk, and I don’t like that feeling anymore. At the Wine Bloggers Conference, if I swallowed all I tasted over the course of a day, I’d be killed!

No.

Spit buckets are a necessary evil in all tasting rooms and at wine tasting events. Unfortunately, all too often, the spit buckets provided are simply buckets. This is a huge irritation of mine at the Wine Blogger Conference in particular. It doesn’t take long for a bucket to become full enough for it to splash back, however careful the spitter. And it is unquestionably disgusting to be splashed by a spit bucket. A simple, standard bucket is not enough.

On a recent trip to en primeur week in Bordeaux, my American companions and I remarked on the uniformly well-designed and sometimes even attractive spit buckets available at every tasting. Each had a concave top of one sort or another covering the bucket, with one or more small holes leading to the receptacle. Splash-back was never a problem. I even dared to wear a white shirt one day. These buckets need not be expensive, like the barrel-shaped model above. I’ve seen plastic versions that work beautifully.

I have to think that some of you have other wine tasting pet peeves, either as tasters or wine presenters. What behaviors drive you bonkers? Let me know!

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4 Comments to “Three Wine Tasting Sins”

  1. Seems obvious when you say it, but errors of enthusiasm are still errors. Resist the temptation.

    JT

  2. Ah! I didn’t realize you were at SWEConf2017 Portland! Next year.

    A sin indeed, those spit buckets that are less than desirable.

    • Absolutely — it baffles me, because the ceramic one in the last photo above surely cost more than a plastic bucket with a protective top.

      I wasn’t actually at SWEConf2017 in Portland, but it looks like fun!

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