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Plan your attack.
Chang advises skipping filler wines and just going straight for what sounds most appealing. “It’s like how my dad never let me get any potatoes for my plate when we were at a buffet,” she says. “He was right when he taught my little brother and I to go for the roast-beef carving station first.”
Start light, finish heavy.
If you tackle the big guns–in other words, the heavy reds–right off the bat, your palate isn’t going to be able to recover. “Start with the driest wines first,” says Wagner. Wines with major residual sugar are going to compromise your palate, so hit those at the end of your visit or your day.
Chang compares the experience to a chef’s tasting menu: “Your wine tasting should follow a logical path. Lightest to richest. Simplest to the most complex.”
Hold your glass with your hand as far as possible from the wine.
Temperature can affect taste, so keep your hot little paws as far away from the precious liquid as possible. Chang says it’s gauche to hold the glass anywhere except for the stem.
Study the specimen.
Once wine gets into a glass, it should be thoroughly investigated before quaffing. Your goal here is to begin to catalog the characteristics you like. Hold it up to light and observe the color and clarity. Tilt your glass and let the wine run down the sides: wine that tends to hold onto the glass and leave more streaks (called “legs”), has a high viscosity, which generally means more alcohol and sugars.
Swirl and swirl again.
Swirling doesn’t just make you look like you know what you’re doing–it serves an actual purpose. When you swirl, you’re aerating the wine, introducing enough oxygen to unleash the flavor secrets within. Or something like that. Chang makes it sound almost like rubbing a magic lamp: “That poor wine has been trapped inside a bottle, in an oxygen-poor environment, and needs to be aerated!” Free that wine genie.
Make noises. Gross ones.
Like Japanese salarymen slurping ramen, a wine aficionado can be loud and proud. Take a sip and inhale deeply, as if you’ve the got the world’s largest cigar in your mouth. Some of the tasters on my trip sounded like a cross between a wild boar and a Wookiee. Wagner says that sound isn’t exactly necessary, but “the point in tasting is to make contact with your entire palate–front, middle, and back of your mouth.” If you have to go full Chewbacca to get there, so be it.
Learn to spit.
It’s wine tasting, after all, not wine drinking. If you’re going to be sampling a ton of different bottles, you’re going to have to learn how to spit. According to Chiarello, you’ll actually be able to appreciate the experience more if you’re not imbibing: “Letting the vapors come up through your nose and spitting it out helps you taste better.”
Chang adds that “spitting is an art. I learned the hard way to spit gently–backsplash is not pretty.” So sip, don’t gulp–what goes in must come out. Do not attempt distance. Do not dribble. One quick, confident patooey is all you need.
“Wine tasting shouldn’t be a crapshoot where you’re just stopping at every shop that you see,” says Chiarello. Prioritize the wineries you want to hit on your journey. Even if you’re a neophyte, if you’re going to a wine tasting, there’s a good chance you’ve had wine before–start by researching a varietal you like, agnostic of brand. Then, when you get to the tasting room, let your preferences be known (“Hi! I’m here for the pinot noir!”) and let the staff guide you from there.