MORGES, SWITZERLAND – A couple people have said what they would really like are some suggestions about how to visit Arvinis and a) not end up drunk and b) learn something about wine c) while enjoying themselves.
The problem with any wine fair is that it’s daunting, especially if you’re not familiar with many of the wines.
Here are my suggestions, valid for any wine festival or fair where the offer is bigger than your body can handle:
- Do look at the English version of Arvinis’s site, where you’ll find a map, information on the guest of honour (Swiss Wine Promotion) and the list of exhibitors, to start.
- Decide before you go how to limit yourself, because with 3,000 wines available for tasting you’ll be lost if you walk in and start with the first one, moving in a straight but increasingly crooked line.
- Spit it out! This is crucial, because once you’ve drunk one glass of wine you can’t really do justice to the others; you simply won’t be able to taste them accurately and really judge them. Everybody spits; that’s why the crachoirs/spitoons are there. Just grab it if it’s not next to you, and use it. Tip: Keep a tissue handy if you’re not used to doing this and worry about dribbling.
- Some people opt to just taste white wines, others to do just red wines. Every stand offers both, so be disciplined and stick to your plan.
- Some old hands like to do it geographically, maybe sampling wines from 5 neighbouring towns and villages. The easiest way to do this is to open the pdf document on the exhibitors’ page, then note the location of the wineries. They are listed here alphabetically but each entry shows the region or sub-region, such as La Côte in Vaud or central Valais.
- I like to pick grape varieties and sample wines made from the same grape from a group of producers. If you want to try this Chasselas and Sauvignon Blanc or for those who like very dry wines Sauvignon Gris work for the whites. Try Pinot Noir, Gamay and Gamaret for the reds. These are all widely grown in Switzerland, so you’ll have plenty of options.
- Take notes. Write down anything you like, or do like the pros and try to note what you smell (aromas of rose or apple or pear or hmmm, rubber?) and then what it feels like in your mouth (racy, smooth, big and fills your mouth, tannins pinch your mouth dry?). But mainly, make a note of what you don’t like and what you love. Tip: I photograph the wines I like with my cell phone, so I don’t have to note label details.
- Ask questions. What does the winemaker find in the nose (always a good question if you don’t trust your own nose)? Is it oaked, meaning it has spent some time in wood, or how soon is it bottled after the harvest? What was 2011 like as a vintage for this wine? Don’t be afraid to say you know nothing or next to nothing; wine producers love that as it gives them a chance to explain their wines.
- Spit it out! This is the most important rule, so I’m repeating it. You’ll enjoy the wine more, believe me. And save your favourite for last, going back and trying it again, and this time, feel free to drink it. But just one, if you’re driving (and I hope you’re not).
A note for Arvinis: wine producers come from a number of countries and this is a good opportunity to compare Swiss wines to those from other countries. Keep in mind that the downside of wine point systems such as Robert Parker’s is that while they might help us decide what wines are good value, they encourage us to compare wines when we shouldn’t: one of the great glories of the wine world is its diversity. Enjoy the differences!