With the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience returning this week, we asked a few wine pros for practical tips and guidelines on etiquette at the tasting table.
Below are comments from master sommeliers Madeline Triffon and Evan Goldstein, who are both visiting for NOWFE, and from Commander’s Palace “wine guy” Dan Davis and local wine consultant Sara Kavanaugh.
Early birds get rewards
“If the wines that are important to you tend to be expensive or rare or Champagne, go there first,” said Davis. “The best stuff goes quick and Champagne always runs out first.”
Speak up, then drink up
“A consumer should park any self-consciousness about what they don’t know. You’re there to learn,” said Triffon.
“I always advocate being aspirational,” said Goldstein. “Ideally, tag along with someone who knows more than you, or who you think does, and ask questions.
“Be curious and inquisitive and don’t simply ask, ‘What’s your best wine?’ People are openly excited when you show genuine interest and will overflow with information and recommendations.”
Pause for the cause
“Don’t just swallow the wine,” said Kavanaugh. “Know what it is before you taste it; get a sense of it, smell it, move it around your mouth and over your palate. You’ll taste it differently in different parts of the mouth and palate. That’s how you get to know a wine.”
Step away from the table
“Unless you’re having an actual conversation with the wine rep, step away from the table with your wine,” said Davis. “And don’t block the dump bucket that someone behind you is probably trying to get to.”
To spit or not to spit
“Consider spitting,” advises Triffon. “Some people find it unappealing or have just never done it before. But this is how the pros do it and you will be able to taste a lot more wine.”
Alternately, just take small sips
“Don’t drink everything they pour you,” said Triffon. “Just take an ounce on your palate. Chew it around for a good five seconds. When you put your nose in the glass, close your eyes like you’re smelling a flower. And do pay attention to the aftertaste.”
Pass on the palate cleanser
“You don’t have to cleanse your palate,” said Triffon. “You should hydrate, of course, but in many cases, unless you’re moving from sweet to dry, you don’t need to drink water to cleanse your palate. You actually want to see how long the finish lasts, that’s a mark of quality.”
In fact, instead of gulping down water, a better way to reset your palate is to alternate to different wine types, especially sparkling with its scrubbing bubbles effect.
“It refreshes your palate, and you’re doing the wine a favor because when you switch, it will make the wine pop,” Triffon said.
Rinse your glass?
“It’s usually not necessary unless you’re going from red to white, because otherwise you’ll end up with pink,” said Triffon. “But in most cases, take your sip and then thoroughly dump the rest out, or rinse with the tiniest bit of the next wine you’re tasting.
“Remember that events will have a ready supply of fresh glasses. If your glass starts looking or feeling grotesque, get another one.”
“Don’t bring your food up to the wine table; it clutters the area and the aroma of your food can affect other people’s tastings,” said Davis.
Just don’t ask
“They are not going to give you a whole glass, so don’t ask for big pours,” said Triffon. “The staff who are pouring and the winery personnel are instructed to pour a small amount. They have a responsibility not to overpour. Also, they’re usually pouring donated wines — they’re not there to pour you six ounces at once.”
On making connections
“If you connect with a winemaker, and you plan to actually visit the region or winery, ask for a card and the best way to plan a visit,” said Goldstein. “Sincerity is always rewarded.”
“Be respectful of the wines and the time people put into them and bringing them there,” said Kavanaugh. “Remember, most of the people here are working and are donating these wines. Basics of please and thank you go a long way.”
When enough is enough
“I think that it’s important to be realistic,” said Goldstein. “One can’t try everything and one’s palate will not be able to discern past a certain point.”
“Even if you’re spitting them out, after 20 wines or so, you’re really not at your best,” said Davis. “You’ve absorbed enough alcohol through your gums and your palate will fatigue anyway, especially if you’re tasting a lot of highly tannic wines.”
“If you just want to go to this as a cocktail party, well, just have fun,” said Triffon. “Make an effort to manage yourself because you’re consuming alcohol in a party atmosphere. It’s advisable to apply a little bit of discipline, because if you do, you’ll get more out of it and increase your pleasure.”
By Ian McNulty