Surviving Epic Tastings: A Field Guide

January 30, 2009 at 5:26 pm (French Wine, Our Favorite Things, Special Events, Uncategorized, What we are thinking) (, , , , , )

I recently attended the tasting for the 2006 vintage of Bordeaux, put on by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux at the very historic and beautiful Palmer House Hilton. I went with Ms Jane Lopes of Roscoe Village Lush fame, and I am glad I had her company, because these events are always just this side of insane.

To be honest, neither one of us was particularly in the mood to attend a tasting event that celebrates the young, wound-up vintages of tannic Cab-Merlot blends; Jane had a very late night at the Violet Hour the evening previous, and I was just crabby from the cold, gray day that greeted me that morning. Running late, as usual, I was huffing and puffing when I met Jane in the sumptuous lobby. I found her wearily sprawled on a black velvet couch. Our eyes met, we sighed, and proceeded upstairs, bypassing the sign-in sheets and name tag stations. This is Lush. We don’t do nametags.

Now, lest one thinks us ungrateful, nota bene: By the event’s end, Jane and I were having an excellent time, and left agreeing that it was a worthy way to spend an afternoon off. Neither of us takes for granted the opportunity to try amazing Grands Crus Bordeaux–for free–and my little ramble here should not be interpreted as such. But, for the wine professionals out there, I am certain you all can relate to having a day when the last thing you want is cerebral, fancy wine.

What made the difference between a solid, educational tasting for us, instead of a mouth-staining afternoon of regret, was preparation and experience. To save you the growing pains of attending this sort of event ill-prepared, here are some tips I have gleaned over the years:

1) Go alone. Or, go with one other person, tops, who is also on The Mission. There are so few spitbuckets and so many people … less bodies in your immediate vicinity equals a less sweaty experience. These events are always quite warm, especially in winter. I regretted my many layers of clothing after only five minutes’ time, especially as the space filled and people got to drinking.

2) This brings me to my second point: spit! Please. I’m looking at you, anonymous server from Steakhouse X. It’s a tasting, not a drinking, and you wobbling near my spit bucket makes me nervous.

2.5) Maybe just bring your own spit bucket.

3) Search and destroy. This year was a reiteration of last year’s Mission: I was only interested in trying the new vintages from wines that stood out at last year’s 2005 release in order to see how they compare. Chateau La Lagune from the Médoc and Chateau d’Armailhac were two favorites, as well as the blanc from Chateau Pape-Clement. There are always scads of industry friends at these events; find some whose palates you trust and ask for their “must-try” recommendations. If you really need to try each and every wine, prepare yourself to spend hours and hours attempting to sample each wine. Factor in “search for spit bucket” time and “scribble illegibly in notebook” time and bam! Five or six hours gone. Don’t forget to hydrate!

4) Avail yourself of the free snacks. Duh!

5) Avoid all the pretty people. They can only distract you from The Mission, and flashing them a goofy purple-toothed smile is to be avoided.

6) Since you are not concerned about impressing the pretties, don’t worry about not wearing that tantalizing cologne or perfume. Actually, to be polite and keep yours and others’ noses in tip-top shape, it’s best not to wear any fragrances to tastings at all. Unless you like a little Stetson musk in your Pauillac, that is. That, and a lot of personal space.

7) Do ask questions of the folks pouring! It’s the only way to fully appreciate what’s in your glass, and the resultant knowledge makes it all worthwhile.

See you all at the next tasting. I’ll be the one without the name tag.

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