Tasting Tips for the Hard Core

(This is also posted on http://blog.seattlepi.com/twoandahalfglasses/)

A while back was the Lamb Jam, a wine-and-lamb tasting event held at Pier 6x Convention Center. I frequent these sordid affairs when I can, in the hope I might find a new favorite winery or restaurant. Like me, you approach wine tastings with a sense of militaristic precision — what’s that? You don’t? You say you’re quite lackadaisical and aimless?

We should fix that. Here are my tips on making the best of these.

1. Your friends are your enemies.

Yes, yes, these are social events to give you an opportunity to hang out with your friends and experience something together – No. You want to hang out with your friends? Go to a bar, go for dinner, go anywhere else but a tasting, because this is important work, folks. Your friends will only slow you down with their idle chatter and catty comments about that aging blonde’s Botox treatments. Amusing, I’m sure. But a distraction.

Furthermore, if you’re a good friend, you’ll be concerned for their feelings, making sure they don’t feel left out or overwhelmed, finding out what their thoughts are, so on, so forth.

They only serve to slow you down. So fail to mention the event to them, or prepare to ditch them as soon as you enter. (They do making standing in line a little less tiresome, though you could use your smartphone (see below) to while away the minutes.)

There is one exception to this rule: The friend who says, “Great, I’ll try these places, we’ll share notes later” is an asset, especially if you both share similar tastes. In fact, you should marry them. Move to Canada if you must.

2. Keep your tools handy.

These are the tools you need to get through this event:

  • A ballpoint pen, or some writing utensil
  • A map of the space
  • A smartphone

The smartphone’s for taking pictures and exchanging texts with your allies. The map’s to guide you. The pen’s for taking notes. Always keep them at the ready: fumbling for them in your bag or coat will cost you crucial seconds that you could be using for better purposes.

3. Get there before opening

This is critical when food’s being served, but also for particularly cherished wines. These events are typically three hours long, and the best food and wine’s usually gone two-thirds through. You don’t want to be eating Aunt Mabel’s Pig Nose Surprise, do you?

4. Set up base.

You want to move efficiently through the space, of course. Especially during these winter months when you’re encumbered with a thick coat, a scarf, gloves, purse or man bag, sunglasses and so forth – these items only serve to slow you down. Leave them at home, in the car, dump them on the floor: just get them off your hands.

Identify a spot in the facility which you can claim as your home. Here’s where you can drop your stuff, and return after visiting each table. Why?

Your hands are already full with your tools. And on top of that, you’re holding a glass of wine in one hand, and a plate of food in the other. You can see the problem now: you have at most two hands, yet you need four. Presumably you’ve practiced finger calisthenics to finesse this. The Ahsan Maneuver 5 and The Ahsan Maneuver 14 may serve you well.

When you obtain your samples, take them back to the base to give yourself the opportunity to enjoy and consider these specimens. If you establish a spot, you will have glaring rights that allow you to tell someone to move elsewhere.

5. Plan and triage

People are lazy. Hence they start at the beginning, carry on until they reach then end, and then stop. This produces a traffic jam at the start, which you can break out quickly. Because you have a plan, right? You have the handy dandy map they offered you at the entrance, and you’ve scanned down the list and marked your top ten choices for wineries and restaurants.

Go to them. Then evaluate and work your way down your list, listening to the grapevine for fodder.

6. Make allies.

Yes, yes, I said don’t take your friends, but the strangers at the event mean nothing to you; they are but tools to serve your goals. Don’t feel bad about this objectification: they look on you in the same way. Soon enough you’ll see the ones who’re serious about this enterprise. Be brave. Ask for recommendations and pointers. Match what you’ve liked with what they’ve liked – the more similarities, the more likely you’ll find that wine, or that food, that will push you to orgastronomic heights.

Of course, this won’t kick in until about forty two minutes after the event has started. Consider this foreplay.

7. Beg.

Wineries don’t wish to disappoint all comers and so, like health care, they’re forced to ration their liquids — especially once they realize they’ve been too generous with their initial pours, and so they’re running low sooner than expected.

This is understandable. But it puts you in a bind, for the paltry portion offered is most likely not enough for your critical four sips:

  • The initial sip, to get a sense of the dynamics, the tannins, the bouquet.
  • A second sip to make sure that your first sip was on target.
  • At this point you have your bit of food
  • A third sip to determine how well this wine goes with the food.
  • And a final sip to either double check the pairing, or round out your impressions of the wine.

Too often, a winery will try to deprive you. There’s not a whole lot you can do except play the male-puppy-dog-eyes maneuver or the female-slight-licking-of-lips-trick, and a polite, “Please, sir, can I have more?” Most winemakers are not such heartless monstrosities to refuse you, except when they are indeed on their last bottle. Under those circumstances, you’ll just have to meter the fluid more finely, and remember to come earlier next time.

8. Use your elbows.

Since your hands are full and elbows bare, you now have handy weapons to defend yourself from spillage and to clear a path to your base. Use them without remorse.

9. Focus on the details.

And now, of course, you have your food and your wine. It’s time to partake in them, to gather your impressions and whether you really want anything further to do with this lot. Write your notes on your map: it’s convenient, and any stains won’t gnaw at your soul as they might were they to fall on your Moleskine.

10. Use custom software.

The point of all this is to have the best experience possible, not the fastest, to skip the mediocre and unrewarding, and to reminisce over the tasty bits. To that end, the truly hardcore among you know that while a poor craftsman blames their tools, the great know how to rock quality weapons.

So clearly, you must write the software that will help you manage your way through these events.

And no, I’m not sharing mine with you.