Sip happens! Wine tasting etiquette

By Terry Sweeney

Recently I attended a wine tasting where a lady and her husband, visiting our fair city, were very vocal about what they thought about every wine; although from their earlier conversation (which anyone but the stone deaf could overhear) I gathered they spent most nights belting down the Jim Beam and, according to her, “knew absolutely nothing about wine.”
“I’m only going to try the red!” said the burley husband defensively, as though one sip of white wine would start him twirling pirouettes in a tutu and turn his manhood to mush.
“Oh … ” said the wife disgustedly, “I can’t stand red wine. Gives me an instant headache.”
I know the feeling. As the two of them ranted on about how bourbon was medicinal but how you could actually get sick from wine (“Where do those grape pickers wash their hands … ya know .. after they do their business?”), I felt an instant headache starting in my temples.
As the evening progressed, their loud exclamations of “Yuck!” and “P.U. Where’s the spit bucket?” and my favorite, “Ew, this one smells like a dirty mop” drove the rest of us — who, for the most part, were trying to make up our own minds and perhaps learn something from the poor bullied wine rep — to the brink of manslaughter or madness or both.
My point is clear. I go to wine tastings, like you, to learn about wine. I’m interested in what the winemaker was thinking. After all, he or she is devoting their whole life to these grapes. Not to mention, sometimes barrels full of their own buckeroos. You know what everyone’s favorite joke in Napa/ Sonoma is?  “How do you make a small fortune in the wine business? Start with a large one.”  That’s why I try to be fair and somewhat respectful when I taste the final product. If I don’t really like a wine, I simply tilt my glass and pour it into the receptacle provided and move on to the next wine without a derogatory comment that may humiliate the rep or winemaker (if present) and ruin someone else’s experience of it. The person next to me may love this wine. And the lady I mentioned earlier yelling out “This tastes like cat pee!” will definitely mar their experience and make for an embarrassing moment for me and my fellow wine tasters. How would she know what cat pee tastes like?! Unless she ‘d drunk it on some earlier unfortunate occasion?!
I attended a wine tasting with a friend of mine who, when a wine was not to her liking, and holding her shoulder length hair back would melodramatically spew a torrent of wine back into the spittoon with such force that it made horrified onlookers think she had been taken ill and that projectile vomiting could not be far behind! At first, I too was horrified, but, alas, was taken with a case of hysterical giggles. Needless to say, we both had to excuse ourselves and slink red-faced out of the wine tasting.
You don’t have to swallow the wine. True. But really. Really? You can’t take one tasteful sip and swallow it and if displeased quietly pour the rest back without making a Shakespearian tragedy out of it?  If not, maybe public wine tastings aren’t for you.
However, if you are interested in continuing your wine education, may I suggest you bring a small notebook for such occasions and take notes. Observe the aroma, the color, the taste and characteristics of the wine, its place of origin and a little something of interest about the wine maker. That’s how I learned and continued to learn by trying new wines and researching the wine makers of the wines I like. Let wine itself be your teacher. Get your wine tongue wet. But, please — keep the rude lip zipped!

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