Do you consider yourself an oenophile or do you need to reach for the nearest dictionary when someone mentions the word?
Youre not alone if you have been avoiding exploring the many wineries dotting the Virginia countryside or enjoying one of the many local wine tastings for fear of looking foolish. But with Virginia Wine Month upon us and the inaugural Old Town Food and Wine Festival this weekend, now is the perfect time to take that first sip towards learning why Wine Spectator Magazine has called Virginia Americas most promising, emerging wine region.
For the novice, there are a few simple guidelines to follow about what to expect, regardless of whether you are at a winery, a local gourmet shop or in a friends home.
What to Expect
Wine tastings can range from formal sit-down affairs to informal and impromptu events in a wine or gourmet shop. Regardless of where they are held, tastings all begin with a selection or group of wines that are referred to as flights. If both red and white wines are being offered for tasting, white wines are first, followed by reds. Typically, a list of wines being served at the tasting is made available so that those sampling the wine can note which ones they enjoyed most. Wine tastings are an efficient and fun way to learn about wines and determine which ones you appreciate since most individuals do not open multiple bottles of wine to sip and compare.
The winery owner or person conducting the tasting will guide you through each step and tell you what to look for as you try the flights. However, knowing what to expect ahead of time can make the experience more enjoyable as well as educational. This is a simple overview of what to expect if you are attending a wine tasting.
Examine the Color. The first thing that the wine expert will ask you to do after he or she has poured a small amount of wine in each participants glass is to look at the color. Is it yellow or brownish or purple red or even a deep maroon? Is the wine dark or light in color, clear or foggy and do you see sediment? The easiest way to see the color is to hold the glass against something white and tilt the glass away from you. Look at the color near the rim. The wine expert will explain what the color means in relation to the particular wine you are tasting. Be sure to hold the glass by the stem. If you clasp your hands around the glass itself, your body heat will increase the temperature of the wine in the glass.
Smell. Sniff the wine when it is first poured and then swirl the glass gently around to allow the wine to aerate and the aromas to open up more. Next, stick your nose right in the glass and try to smell the scent of oak or fruit or citrus or flowers. Dont worry if you cant identify any aromas. That will come as you become more accustomed to the experience.
Taste. Take a sip of the wine and simply allow it to sit on your tongue. Then, draw in a bit of air through your mouth and exhale through your nose. After swallowing that sip, many wine tasters take another sip of wine and allow more air in as they sip the wine. Then swallow. You might hear a bit of slurping at this point in the tasting by those who are true wine experts or those who want you to think they are.
Contemplate the taste and smell. Is there is a pleasant aftertaste or is it acidic? Many people like to make notes about what they particularly liked about the wine to help them decide which wines to purchase.
Swallow or spit? If you are planning to sample several wines or are concerned about staying sober, then it is perfectly acceptable to spit into a designated dump bucket. If you are not comfortable spitting in public, you may want to practice by spitting water into a sink at home.
When In Rome …
If you have never attended a wine tasting event before, there are a few simple rules of etiquette that you should familiarize yourself with in order to make yourself and those around you more comfortable (see box below).
The biggest hurdle for newcomers to overcome at a wine tasting is to learn that it is perfectly acceptable to pour or spit out any wine you do not drink. Just be sure to do this into the spittoon-type container provided by the person conducting the tasting. You are not expected, nor should you want to swallow all of the wine in every wine that you sample. No one expects you to like all of the wines to the same extent and drinking too much wine will make it harder to distinguish the small differences among the varieties you are tasting. Moreover, you can taste the wine simply by letting the small drink you take sit on your tongue for a few seconds.
In the end, wine tastings are about having an enjoyable time and savoring literally and figuratively the moment while learning more about the complexities and tastes that can come from a grape. Alexandrias Jordan Richards, who was recently sampling the white wines at Prince Michels Tasting Room, echoed most peoples thoughts when it comes to wine: I havent been to many wine tastings, but I know what I like.
While tasting and evaluating wine can be fun, ultimately the wine tasting is about learning what you like and enjoying the experience. So dont hesitate to join in the fun this weekend and raise a glass to Virginia Wine Month!
Old Town Food and Wine Festival
While Alexandria is celebrating Virginia Wine Month throughout October, one of the highlights for tourists and residents alike will be this weekends inaugural Old Town Food and Wine Festival. Various wine and epicurean events will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Old Town Holiday Inn, 625 First St., and the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 901 North Fairfax St. For a complete schedule of events, including wine tastings by various Virginia wineries, cooking demonstrations and book signings, and the participating shops and restaurants, visit www.oldtownwinefestival.com.
Six Easy Wine Tasting Tips
If you are not going to spit out the wine or pour it out, then pace yourself by eating a meal before you go to a wine tasting and take less wine in your glass with each bottle you try.
Breathing in a small amount of air when you have wine in your mouth is perfectly acceptable. Wine experts do this unless they are swirling and slurping. Some experts may make a great deal of noise slurping. Feel free to ignore their sound effects.
Dont smoke. Smoking not only ruins the flavor of the wine, but the experience of your fellow tasters.
Dont drink and drive. Some wineries offer a small gift to the designated driver if he or she pours out or spits out most of the wine in their tasting glass.
Dont wear a heavy perfume or after shave that will affect the ability of other tasters to smell the wine in their glass.
Dont tell the group if you love or hate the wine everyone is tasting. What you love, someone else might find unpalatable. Many wine lovers simply find it rude to have other strangers at a wine tasting pontificating about what they like or dislike in a wine.