Attending a wine tasting is supposed to be fun, a social means of sharing sips, spits, and thoughtful conversation. But for those who don't know the difference between a Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio, the experience can be one of self-consciousness and apprehension about coming across as gauche.
Fear not. Just follow these simple tips and you will be able to pass yourself off as a knowledgeable oenophile with ease. Before getting started, we'll wait a minute so you can Google the definition of oenophile.
1. The start: Swirl, sniff, and agree.
Swirl the wine in your glass, then stick your nose into the glass and sniff. Do this a few times, and wear a puzzled look on your face while doing so. This means you are contemplating the more subtle attributes. This is the time when tasters will comment on the "nose" or "bouquet" of the wine. You're new at this, so wait for the first comment, which will likely be something such as "Very assertive nose." You should then say, "Yes, very!" Or else raise one eyebrow higher than the other and just go "hmmm...."
As the tasting proceeds, your confidence will grow and you will find yourself expressing your own opinions. This is not because you will be learning as you go along, but rather because you'll have a buzz from the wine. Which brings us to another tip you may wish to heed:
2. Be a spitter, not a swallower.
If you swallow every sip, and it's an extensive wine tasting, you're not going to taste much of anything after the first few wines. Plus the very act of guzzling all the wine in each glass will surely out you as an impostor, as well as someone who may potentially have a drinking problem. You should save the actual swallowing for those wines whose taste you especially enjoy; the rest you spit out. That's what the spitoon is for. There is a decorum to spitting: Do not make a lot of noise with your throat and then hurl phlegm along with the wine. Do not spit too forcefully or the wine may splatter. Do not spit with too much timidity or the wine will dribble down your chin and onto your shirt. Do not miss the bucket altogether (this happens mostly to those who have done a lot more swallowing than spitting).
3. At some point during the tasting, work the following line into conversation: "Take it from me, yachts are nothing but trouble."
This has nothing to do with wine directly, but it implies a lavish lifestyle which itself implies a grasp of fine wines. Plus a tad of pomposity doesn't hurt at these tastings -- which is why you might also consider using the word tad.
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4. Use creative adjectives and metaphors when describing the taste notes.
Wine tastings are the perfect event for frustrated would-be poets and novelists. Wine descriptions rely on wacky, creative comparisons and metaphors, and because the act of evaluating wine flavors is so subjective, you can hardly go wrong. There are, however, a few general rules to keep in mind when picking adjectives. White fruits, herbs, and things made from metal are good for white wines; red fruits, spices, and strong, musty, horrible odors are used for red wines. For instance, a sip of chardonnay might lead you to say: "I taste pears, along with a hint of car door handle." If tackling a heavy cabernet, you may consider saying "Strong black currant notes, and I'm also picking up hints of leather, tobacco, and the sweaty toes of a sumo wrestler." It is hard to go wrong here, but it isn't impossible. Rule of thumb: Try not to use any words or metaphors you would consider using on your mother-in-law. In other words, never describe wine as being "vindictive" or "lacking a sense of humor."
You can have even more fun with metaphors. A crisp white wine? Just say that it tastes like the way the ocean at Martha's Vineyard used to smell when you went there as a child, or like clean laundry on a rainy spring afternoon when you've just awakened from a nap. Really: Anything goes. An apt metaphor for heavy red wine? "It tastes as though the Occupy Wall Street movement has just marched over my tongue in their muddy socks."
5. Evaluate the finish.
The "finish" is the length of time the wine lingers with you. Sometimes it will be seconds, sometimes up to a minute. Generally speaking, the longer the finish the better the wine, so if the tasters have been rating the wine well you can take a gamble on complimenting the finish. "Nice finish" will suffice, although "well-defined" is better, as it's one of those terms that means little and is therefore hard to dispute. The term "muscular finish" works for the same reason; it is meaningless but sounds really intelligent. If, on the other hand, you blurt out "Finith? We're finithed already?", it means you didn't take our advice about spitting.