This week I was the invited guest of the tasting panel for The Wine of the Month Club. The Club is a subscription based wine-selection and wine-delivery club. Every month they score and rate wines, and then a clever person packs up a case of wine and delivers it to your home! Amazing. The panel of expert, independent judges meet every week to blind taste a broad selection of the very best of South African wines, sparkling wines and even ports and brandies. I asked where I could join this weekly club of free wine tastings. Apparently, that’s not the kind of club they had in mind.
Here’s what I learned from the pro’s:
Taste in groups, it’s cheaper
Throw a wine tasting party, where each person brings one bottle of wine. This method allows you to sample up to 8 different bottles of wine for the price of 1 bottle. Set a theme – price, style or region that will help you narrow down the stress of being judged by your friends. Group together to form an informal wine club that meets once a month or all attend a festival together to get the educational and social benefits of wine! Yay!
Try many, decide quickly
Every wine is different, as is every person’s palate unique. Yes, wine can be complicated but one thing is fairly certain: we all know what we like when we taste it. The more you taste, the better chance you have of finding a new and exciting wine that you will love. A great way to maximise your wine exposure, and ensure a broad exposure is by join a wine club, attending local wine festivals and signing up to newsletters at your local wine store.
Take notes, make lists
One of the challenges of building up your wine knowledge is remembering which wines you liked and why you enjoyed them. Start keeping notes today! This can be as simple as starting a note on your smart phone that reads “Katy’s Table Chardonnay 2013: No” and expand from there. Keeping a journal is best (although a little geeky): my favourite is Moleskine’s Wine Journal. It has changed the way I taste wine, and through its simple layout forces you to stop and sniff and look and to notice all the little things I never do when I’m guzzling wine. Luckily they’re in most good bookstores: buy one for your wine friend at the next opportunity! Over time is should help you to pick out trends in region, style and age helping you to choose a great wine next time!
Avoid external influences, taste in silence
A true blind tasting removes all of the clues that most of us rely on – price, pretty labels, region, brand and even environment. A blind tasting can help you discover a wine that you may have automatically disregarded. On this topic – when tasting in a group, try to taste all the wines in silence. Once you’ve tasted and rated all wines, then discuss it casually among the group. This lightens some of the social pressure of having something insightful to say, as well as bringing some things to light after you’ve formed your opinion and maybe encouraging you to give a wine a second chance.
Drink water, eat after
A light snack about an hour before tasting will help keep your head clear, without unduly effecting your taste. The exception here is if you are choosing a wine specifically to be paired with a dish, such as when planning a wedding reception. Plan for dinner after your tasting session – a nice glass of wine with a hot meal is good motivation not to let the tasting party drag on for hours. And remember to drink water before, during and after. Still water is best as sparkling water is slightly acidic (and always makes me burp!).
A few resources:
My all time favourite: Wine Folly has tons of useful info, including how to spit. It’s on my To-Do list…
Katy was a guest of the Wine of the Month Club: a thanks to the panel for the warm welcome and endless wine knowledge. A special thanks to Claude Felbert for his hospitality, and his willingness to answer my endless wine questions. Now, where do I join this drinking club?