In the past few years I’ve been to my fair share of tastings (and if you didn’t know that you’re definitely not following @grapechic on Instagram). Most of them are small intimate tastings lead by a Sommelier, but I’ve also been to a good amount of “grand” tastings held in large ballrooms and other impressive venues. These tastings are an amazing way to get the general public along with industry professionals in the same space discovering hundreds of wines across different regions (unless it’s a grand tasting across one region, of course). 75+ producers usually mean massive crowds of people…which is great…. until it’s not.
There is a different climate of wine drinkers now and honestly, it’s exciting to see. You no longer have to hold a certification to know something about wine, and according to a study published by the NY Post, the average American now has their “Wine Awakening” at age 29. Because the crowds at these grand tastings are now so diverse in age and gender, there are a few things we should all keep in mind when attending one of these glorious events…. well, according me to me anyway.
1. Do- have a strategy before going. Most all grand tasting events will have producer listings and maps available online or via email before the event. With most events featuring over 75 producers, you should really have a priority list and plan of action to ensure you don’t miss anything special. I hate to break it to you, but you’re not going to be able to try 75+ wines in 3 hours. Unless you can…and then in that case, you’re my hero.
2. Don’t- huddle in groups in front of a producer table. With limited time to taste, we need to make sure we keep the flow of traffic moving throughout! Stopping for a chat, checking your map or writing your notes in front of a table will cue other tasters that you’re potentially in line waiting to taste.
3. Do- dress for the occasion. And by dress for the occasion I mean don’t under-dress OR overdress. Consider the organization throwing the event, the venue and the time of day. Although I respect a good suit (I’m in the luxury men’s clothing world after all), it’s not really necessary at a 12pm tasting in Brooklyn. In the words of The Countess Luann Lesseps, “be cool. Don’t be all, like, uncool.”
4. Don’t- go the event dehydrated. When our bodies are dehydrated, our palates can’t receive the full experience of the wine we’re tasting. Not only that, but as we all know, alcohol can quickly takeover. Make sure you're drinking water before and during the event. There is nothing worse than unruly tasters!
5. Do- drink “the babies” not just the older vintages being poured. This point got a BIG response on my Instagram page. I had mentioned after a tasting that I couldn’t understand how some people weren’t interested in trying the 2016 and 2017 wines. I literally heard a woman say, “I don’t want to try the young wines. They aren’t ready.” How can you fully understand and appreciate the older vintages when you don’t taste them young? This will forever boggle my mind.
6. Don’t- cut in line because you “know” the somm or the person pouring. I’m going to strictly talk NYC here for a moment. If you’re a wine lover here, you’ve probably been to several restaurants and wine bars that employ top level somms. At many New York tastings, these are usually the people pouring the wine. So, let me say this… just because you’ve talked Brunello on a Tuesday once last March doesn’t give you the right to cut ahead to get that glass filled. We’ve ALL talked to that somm once on a Tuesday night. Get back in line.
7. Do- utilize the spittoon whether that be spitting or dumping. Grand tastings are a marathon, not a sprint. Your main goal shouldn’t be to get hammered, and if it is, you can find a much cheaper ticket at the corner liquor store. Just make sure to be aware of what’s going on around the spit bucket. I’ve seen one too many glasses to the head when one person goes to spit and another goes to dump!
8. Don’t- tell a producer you “hate” the wine you’re trying. You don’t have to like all the wines you taste, but at least have a little tact. Regardless of your personal palate, a lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into these bottles and most times they are the producer’s livelihood. If you’re not a fan of a particular wine, just politely dump and move on.
9. Do- ask questions. Don’t be intimidated to ask the producers or somms questions. They are there to pour their wines and give you all the information you need. Also, don’t be scared to find an event staff member if you need a little direction regarding the layout, where to start, staff favorites etc.
10. Don’t- wear your CMS or WSET pin if you aren’t working the event. I did a poll on Instagram and 80+% said this is a “no no” when attending grand tastings. Let’s be honest, wearing your pin as a ticket holder can make you come off as a “wine snob,” or elude that you’re better than everyone else. Let’s keep these tastings light and welcoming to so that everyone is comfortable trying new wines together. Also, heaven forbid you get asked a question you don’t know the answer to. Yikes.
11. Do- buy the wines you liked. Showing your support is the best “thank you” in the world. Sometimes the wine will be available for sale at the tasting event, but in the case it’s not, ask the person pouring how you can find it. If they aren’t sure…there’s always Google.
12. Don’t- advise your non-wine savy friends to stay away from certain wines because they won’t “understand them.” What does that even mean anyway? Spread wine love…not exclusivity!
13. Do- Try something new!! There's no better way to explore and try new wines than at a grand tasting! This is your chance to step away from the familiar and discover something that is not usually in your repertoire.
14. Do- HAVE FUN!
I'd love to hear from YOU! Was there a point I made that you feel strongly about? Post it in your Instagram stories so we can make grand tastings a better place! Don't forget to tag @grapechic!