Editor's Note: We asked our old friend Jameson Fink to talk about his wine tasting experience and, well, let's simply say we love him for all his peculiarities.
As an anxiety-ridden person, naturally I have developed fears — some realized, some semi-imagined — over attending wine tastings. A lot of them have to do with hygiene. Some have to do with my wine thesaurus. Others, claustrophobia-driven. And, finally, the concern that lunch will send me to a nook in Napa for a nap instead of note-taking at Napanook.
So whether you find yourself at a wine tasting or winery tasting room, great or small, rest assured that if I can persevere to taste another day, so can much more well-adjusted people. Like you. Here's my list of 5 things at wine tastings I've learned to recognize and deal with. At numerous events and locations. Without internally freaking out. Recently.
1. When spitting a wine into a bucket, you will eventually get splashback onto your face.
I know, it’s so gross. But it even happens to a pro like me who has spit out more wine than he has consumed over a legal drinking lifetime. (Ok, that’s a lie.) I, on numerous occasions, have suffered the indignity that begins when leaning in to expectorate, say, a fine red Burgundy. Concurrently, I anticipate making a pithy and insightful statement on the profundity of Gevrey Chambertin to a wine luminary who made the trip across the pond just to pour this bottle. Actual result? I flee in shame as I coat my glasses with a Burgundy cuvée augmented by the saliva of dozens of strangers and little bits of chewed-up food dislodged by swishing and spitting.
2. There will be Marcona almonds, and everyone is putting their grubby hands all over them.
Now, I’m not implying that those who attend wine tastings have poor hand-washing habits or just came from composting their garden. Or an emergency sump pump repair. But, seriously, there is always a dish of Marcona almonds or some kind of nuts and there’s never a proper utensil — might I recommend a spoon? — with which to dispense them in a sanitary manner. Even on those rare occasions there is, multitudes will bypass any almond-delivering implement and opt to go in with their hands, put fingers to almonds, almonds to lips, and then repeat. Ew.
3. When someone asks you if you smell Himalayan dried ground cherries or confit of young lemongrass, at some point you’ll lie and say, “Absolutely.”
Has flavor/aroma identification fatigue will set in? It will. At some point, even considering your prodigious studying of the back pages of Wine Spectator, you’ll run out of descriptors. Don't worry if some armchair brommelier at your side starts scoffing at your pedestrian proclamations: “You ‘like’ it? It’s ‘good’, you say?”Just concede to identifying Sonoran road tar on the wine’s attack, move on, and live to drink another day. WINE IS YUMMY, Y'ALL.
4. The crowded tasting table is a source of anxiety.
There will always be a few tables with a throng of people surrounding them. There’s a map to consult, but you left it behind somewhere between juggling a wine glass, getting a drink of water, tweeting, and grabbing some Marcona almonds (AHA! Busted!). The crowded table gives me conflicting thoughts: A) It’s crowded because the wines are AWESOME!!! I cannot believe they are pouring x, y, AND z! If I miss out on this I. Will. Die. B) It’s crowded because of a big name/attractive person/a large group travelling en masse station-to-station.
This is a good time to check out one of the “lonelier” tables, and not out of pity. Take advantage of a chance to discover something new. Or leisurely ask questions of a winemaker without people staring a hate-fueled hole into the back of your head — like they were boring a tunnel — because you’re holding up the line.
5. When in wine country, steel yourself to ward off the pitfalls of the first tasting room after lunch.
Those morning appointments? Gold. Your palate is fresh, you’re full of vigor, and spitting a lot of wine. Then comes lunch, which inevitably becomes an exercise in being powerless to resist a large meal. And the spit bucket takes a siesta. This combination bodes well for one particular endeavor: napping. Unfortunately, you’ve got that winery you’ve planned to visit in the afternoon. (And, naturally, you have a designated driver or car service to shuttle you around safely.)
This might be a good time to inquire about an invigorating and informative walk in the vineyards rather than heading straight to the tasting bar. Give that post-lunch winery the respect it deserves. Or schedule a post-lunch appointment with a pool chair at the hotel rather than a winery.