I went to a wine-tasting session a few nights ago, where 30 of us paid CHF80 for the evening’s wines, food served with the glasses, and the teacher’s expertise. It was well worth it, but I came home reflecting on how important it is to observe some basic rules when you attend a wine class or go to a tasting-session.
It’s not a question of being a wine snob but of respect and generosity – remembering that other people are there to learn, and they may have paid money that isn’t always easy for them to find.
I was very impressed by how well our teacher handled a small but somewhat unruly group who didn’t know any better, I think. Hat’s off to Emmanuel Charpin, from De la Graine au Verre, at Cave La Romaine in Flanthey, near Sion in Valais, and a big thank you.
Do’s and don’ts
Don’t wear perfume! I can’t say this too loudly. You can’t wipe away the smell once you’ve doused yourself. Ditto for scented aftershaves and heavy-duty sports deodorant. I was recently in a restaurant at a table next to the entrance to a dining room where some very, very expensive wines, magnums of several old vintages, were the focus of a private dinner (sadly, I wasn’t part of that group). Three young women, all expensively dressed, left clouds of equally expensive perfume in their wake as they went into the meal. Not cool.
Don’t smoke just beforehand. Don’t smoke during. Don’t take a cigarette break! This isn’t about you: the smell clings to your hair and clothes and beard if you have one and it makes it really difficult for the other people to get past that smell and find aromas in their wine. That’s a big part of what they’re there to learn, and to enjoy. Emmanuel the other night pointed out to two young women who dashed out for a cigarette break that they’re used to the smell and aren’t aware of it, but everyone else in the room was bothered by it.
Do plan to take some notes; it helps you stay focused – learning about wine is partly a memory game.
Do listen to the person who is leading the wine tasting; easy to do at the start but once you start chatting about the wine with your neighbour, which is part of the fun, it’s easy to get carried away. You miss some of what the teacher says, but so do your neighbours. If the buzz gets too loud, no one can hear properly.
Spit out the wine. If you want to just go drinking, go to a bar or café – no shortage of those around. For your own sake, if you swallow the wine, you won’t really taste much after a couple of glasses. For other people’s sake, it’s a royal pain to have a drunk in the room, who gets loud and obnoxious even though he or she (and it’s not just men) doesn’t think that’s happening. If you want to get a buzz or get drunk, do the math: we had 14 wines the other night, about half a decilitre each time, so if you drank everything and never spit it out you’d have drunk about a bottle of wine. For the price, you can buy a bottle of wine in a bar, get some food with it and unwind there.
This wasn’t any group of purists – people who like to learn about wine usually like to drink it as well! Most of us drank the last glass and several people stayed around to try a glass of the newly bottled vintage.
More themed evenings coming up at the winery, with Emmanuel leading tastings about food and wine pairings in August and Humagne Rouge in September (in French).