Enhancing the Experience of Tasting Wine

There is not a better geographic location than south Santa Clara
County and north San Benito County for wine tasting.
There is not a better geographic location than south Santa Clara County and north San Benito County for wine tasting. Within a few hours of a drive, one could find themselves in Napa, Sonoma, Monterey, Santa Cruz and, of course, at one of the many excellent wineries around this area. For many, wine tasting has become a great day or weekend trip, a chance to explore the many styles, appellations and varietals that are at our fingertips.

When one decides to go wine tasting, there are certain rules of etiquette that should be followed. Try to keep these in mind when you start your adventure:

• Avoid wearing strong scents to a wine tasting. Perfumes, colognes and even hairspray can interfere with the aromas of the wine.

• Smoking before or during wine tasting will affect the taste of your wines. Hold off for few hours. You will enjoy the tasting more, and so will those around you. Avoid mints, chewing gum and strong foods, for these too will affect the wine you are about to taste.

• Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before and during the tasting.

• If you are visiting the winery with friends or in a group, be conscientious about noise levels. Boisterous activities are a no-no.

• Do not wear white. Spillage is a distinct possibility, and we all know white clothing is a magnet for stains.

After these basic rules, there are other choices that one can make through the course of wine tasting. The following happen to be my personal preferences:

• Hold the wine glass by the stem. Holding the glass by the bowl can warm the wine. It also puts fingerprints all over the glass, impeding your chance to view the wine’s color. Experts and those coordinated can hold the wine glass by the base only, between thumb and forefinger. When I do this, I don’t feel in control of the glass, and I spill and struggle to put my wine glass down. So the stem works for me.

• Swirl the wine gently in the glass. Smell the wine and look at its color. See if you detect any flavors that may be on the winery’s tasting sheets. Ask your companions what they notice about the wine.

• Do not rinse your glass with water between tastes. If you are concerned that it might impede the character of the next wine, ask the tasting room host to pour a little bit of the next wine in your glass, swirl (thereby rinsing the glass with wine), and voilá!

• If you are planning on visiting a few wineries, use good judgment and discretion. In a short time, you could drink a few glasses of wine before you know it. I like to consume the wine myself, so I may ask for a smaller pour if I am trying all the wines. Some suggest spitting the wine out. Unless you are a baseball player, most of us are not well-versed at spitting, and this may disturb others in the tasting room. Try to sip a small portion of the wine, let the wine encompass your mouth and then pour the rest out carefully into the dump bucket. Most wineries do charge a fee for tasting. Currently, this is anywhere between $3 and $10, more if you are tasting reserve wines. Offer to pay for this up front and get it out of the way so you can enjoy the wine and your surroundings. Wineries usually will apply the tasting fee to any purchase you make.

Some other general points to keep in mind:

• Do not hassle the tasting room host for a “bigger pour” or multiple repeats on the tasting. It is a winery, not a bar. If you like a particular wine, it’s OK to ask for another taste. While you are not obligated to buy anything, supporting the winery and the industry with a purchase is a compliment. — Each winery will offer different wines and different wine-making styles. Stick to the order that the winery suggests for tasting.

Also, you will not like everything that you taste. Do not announce your disappointment for a wine to the public and staff. It is polite to keep this to yourself, at least until you leave the establishment.

• The tasting room may be crowded. After you receive your pour, step back and make sure others have access to the tasting bar.

• Finally, tell all your friends about your experience. If you had a good time, invite them along next time or share the wine you purchased at the next opportunity.

And most importantly: If you mention this column when tasting, you’ll get … absolutely nothing more or extra. Gotcha.


Bottle of the Week

Kirigin Cellars, Gilroy


Wine: Zinfandel (2002)

Price: $19.90

Grape: 100 percent zinfandel estate

Flavors: Rich cherries and pepper

Why: “I think it’s one of our best yet,” said tasting room manager Maria Ohlson. “It’s just very rich.”

Where: The wine can be purchased at the winery 11550 Watsonville Road in Gilroy. The tasting room can be reached at (408) 847-8827.

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