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How To Taste Wine: Learn From My Mistakes

Wine is not like beer in that, most of the time, it is 3 to 4 times as potent. In a big wine tasting, wine is usually free to taste unlike beer which you pay for a drinking measure. For these reason, it is very easy to get carried away and miss out on a lot of stunners due to over-consumption in a short space of time. Having said that, wine is also considered a catalyst for social cohesion and its consumption is synonymous of “good times”. How should we reconcile the two?

The team and I went to a huge trade tasting recently with about 700 wines on display, self-pour (understand: help yourself). This kind of tasting is not to be messed with. The aim here is for us to find new wines that we think you, the customer, will be happy to partake with some of your hard-earned cash for. Now, I thought I was rather disciplined. But considering the level of slurring and nonsense I was delivering on the train back, I clearly missed a few steps. I know the rules but I got carried away at times and I paid the price later. I would have much rather taken it slower, tasted less wines and remembered more of them.


A friend of my recently commented on a facebook post I shared about our upcoming Wine Festival:

“I am interested in wine drinking, but I don't know about tasting? You still get to drink or do you have to spit it out?”

How to get the best out of your wine tasting evening and not feel like military discipline is required?

With our annual wine festival peeking its nose in a couple of weeks, I thought I’d give you my 2 pennies’ worth on how to tackle a large wine tasting and get as much out of it as possible without sacrificing the fun you all want to have and deserve. Check out my top tips for wine tasting like a Nic, not like a pro, because it’s more fun all round ;)

1. Take 5

Spend 5 minutes going over the list of what’s on offer. It will save you from missing out. It is tempting to think you can try them all but trust me, even if you could physically do it, that would not make your evening (and the following days) enjoyable. I suggest making a selection of “Must Try” and “Would be nice to try”, get around these first and then if you have some spare time left, bonus, innit?
2. Spit it out!

Now that’s a tough one, I know. I never managed to convince anyone in my entourage of the genuine benefits of spitting. But they are immense! For one, it is key for not ending up slurring and not being able to order a taxi home. So my take on this: if you really like the wine, knock yourself out, you’re there to enjoy. But if you’re not fussed, keep your wits for something you’ll enjoy more later. If you’re really not comfortable with the practice, at least pour the rest of the glass in one of the many spittoon bins available. There is far more on offer than you can tackle so don’t worry, we’ll all get merry enough.

3. Drink water

There should always be some water available on the table. You can rinse your glass but most importantly, keep your palate fresh and stay hydrated. I’d say drink a small pour of water after every 3 wines. You’ll thank me later.

4. Get some tasty food down you

This year we’re inviting a national rock star of the catring scene, Luke Owen of Masterchef fame (include link to his website), to cook street food dishes for everyone, including veggie options. Stocking up on grub is a really good way to make sure you enjoy the event to the full. It fills you up, rests your palate and gets you thirstier for flavour. And if you don’t like red wines that are too tannic and astringent, why not give them a try after your plate of food and see how the wine feels much smoother?

5. Use a simple scoring system

My friend came up with my favourite scoring system, not just for wine but for anything in life: the three smileys. The grumpy one, the non-plussed one and the happy one. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. When we taste new wines with the team and we need to decide whether we want to put it on our shelves, it has to make us happy. If it doesn’t, there’s no point. So draw your smileys against the wines you try, and then you know which ones you’ll want to revisit or buy later.

As another friend recently commented:

“ (...) smiley faces are my tried and tested scoring system. Even the Three Wine Men (Oz Clarke, Time Atkin and Olly Smith) approved of it when I showed them at another wine event”

If you follow all these tips, even just a little bit, you will end up taking back home so much more of the experience. And isn’t that the whole point of living life to the full?

So, how do you tend to go about your wine tasting? Sparkling, white then red? Or do you pick the first pretty label you see?

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