Sommeli Pirates

by Greg on March 11, 2011

Living smack dab in the middle of Finger Lakes wine country, we are required by local ordinance to visit area wineries and sample their various vintages throughout the year.

Not ones to skirt the law, my wife and I decided to hit the wine trail and enjoy an afternoon of mandatory wine tasting.

If you’ve never been to a wine tasting, you must. Not so much for the wine, but rather for the opportunity to observe the behavioral metamorphosis that takes place when someone is handed stemware.

Men who were just minutes ago pulling each other’s fingers and giving piggy-back rides in the parking lot will suddenly transform into pontificating wine connoisseurs once they sidle up to the bar.

Whereas my verbal critiques are limited to “This tastes good” or “This sucks,” there’s always some know-it-all loudmouth in a Motorhead T-shirt holding his glass up to the light while extolling the virtues of the wine’s bouquet and delightful finish.

“Sir, that’s the rinse water.”

“Mm hmmm,” he’ll say, while carefully studying the swirling liquid, “and what year is this?”

The procedure at a wine tasting, at least here in Central New York, is pretty consistent from one winery to the next.

Give the pourer behind the counter $2 or $3 and you’ll receive a tasting sheet that lists the wines available for sampling. Either check off the individual wines you’d like to try or just do what my wife does and draw a big dark circle around the fringe of the paper to include them all.

On your sheet you’ll see each wine’s name, year, and accolades, along with a poetic description that describes all the various fruits, spices, and other such nonsense you should taste when sampling the wine. Much like this:

They’ll pour just enough wine to coat your glass and then step back to give everyone time to channel their inner Niles Crane. It’s at this time when you’re expected to put the wine through what experts call the “Five S’s”:

See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, and Savor.

See – Hold your glass up to the light to make sure there’s actually wine in it. If so, give it a discerning eye and stare at it from different angles. Add a few audible “hmmms” for effect. Be sure to stare at your wine a little longer than anyone else. They’ll all assume you spotted something you like. Or didn’t like. Either way, you’ll have gained considerable snooty points.

Swirl – The secret to pompous wine swirling is to set the glass on the counter, hold the stem firmly between your fingers, and move it in a subtle circular motion while suppressing the natural urge to squeal, “Wheeeee!”

Sniff – Press your face into your glass with enough pressure to leave a half-moon ring on your forehead and then sniff deeply. You should smell wine if you’re doing this properly. If people are watching, close your eyes and gently waft your hand towards your nose. This will make people feel as stupid as you look.

Sip – If your wine hasn’t evaporated by this point, go ahead and take a sip, but don’t swallow. The wine must first go through a brutal round of oral manipulation before it’s suitable for ingestion.

Savor – Flitter the wine through your teeth, slosh it from side to side in your mouth, and breathe through your nose while withholding a swallow. Basically, do everything you’d do with mouthwash aside from gargling. If you like the wine, swallow it. If you don’t, go ahead and spit it out. Even with all the pompous shenanigans going on around you, it’s not considered rude or uncouth to spit unswallowed wine into the communal spittoon or into the glass of the person next to you.

If you think this whole charade is an overly exaggerated process, then I’m sorry to say this, but you’re just not cut out to be a wine drinker. Fortunately, you’re in broad company.

When I sample wines, I don’t need to stare at it, smell it, play with it, or make out with it. I just need to taste it. Something that takes about three seconds. I won’t know why a wine tastes good, and I really don’t care. If it tastes good to me, that’s all I need to know. Regardless of color, soil, weight, region, or the fanciful rhetoric describing it.

Quite honestly, if they didn’t tell me what I was tasting on the wine sheet, I’d truly have no idea. I have no qualms in admitting that I lack the sophistication it takes to know if a wine tastes good until I actually drink it. Coming at me with winemaker jargon and lengthy sermons about soil, acidity, and grape varietals is pointless.

You’re talking to someone with a palette accustomed to Chef Boyardee and Cheetos. I’m not going to be impressed by a label that says the wine presents the lush flavors of currants, loganberries, and whole bean Peruvian coffee. Quite frankly, this combination sounds horrifying. Wine selection for me is easy. If it tastes yummy, I’ll have some more.

Left to me, wine descriptions would reflect a more honest opinion of what people can expect:

Alas, the wineries aren’t in the business of selling wine. They’re in the business of selling an experience. And if people are paying good money for a bottle of wine, they don’t want it to taste like wine. They want it to taste like a delicate puree of creamed Norwegian plum, fresh-picked strawberries harvested from an eastward-facing field, honey-pressed apricots, and a subtle flittering of slightly over-ripened white peach. In short, people want to feel good about spending $25 on spiked fruit punch.

Because 99.6% of Americans are unable to distinguish all the subtle flavors that may exist in a sip of wine, wineries will hire sommeliers and wine critics to tell the public what they’re drinking. Backed by years of experience in making fermented grapes sound luxurious, the flavor combinations they dream up are so complex that they’re unarguable.

If you can’t taste the subtle notes of creamed Asian pear and bramble fruit, it’s because you lack the refined palette it takes to know that you’re sipping a delightful wine. It tastes good.

You just don’t realize it.

Heath-er! Heath-er! Heath-er!

{ 17 comments }

Sheilacakes March 11, 2011 at 3:15 pm

I am not a wine drinker except for the rare bottle of Arbor Mist lol. I don’t see the point in wine tastings. I would pay good money to see you dressed up like Lucy smashing grapes with your massive big foot feet though.

http://sheilacakes.blogspot.com

Lesley March 11, 2011 at 3:39 pm

I can taste it! But then…I’m being trained to do so. So its different for me! I hate wine tastings though. Whisky…tequila…YES! Wine…I just want to drink it. But, if you ever get a chance to taste Australian or Canadian Ice you should do at least the smelling and then the tasting. Because that is the BEST WINE EVER! 😀

Rob March 11, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Looks like Heather was getting her drink on. LOL. Wine is ok but I don’t know squat about it. I pay $10 or less for a bottle and if it is good we will get it again if not maybe try something different. Give me some single barrel Jack Daniels any day over win. Lets drink!

Madelyn March 11, 2011 at 8:54 pm

I am not ashamed to admit that if I am drinking wine, it’s because we are fresh out of beer, vodka, gin, whiskey, and even blackberry brandy.

I also am not ashamed to admit that I choose wine solely by the label. Not what it says, but the picture. “Oooh, this one has a bear on it..”

This of course means that I can’t order it in restaurants. “Can I have a glass of Bear Wine please? You aren’t familiar with that? Well, do you have Purple Moon Over A Bay With A Fish Jumping Out Of The Water Wine?”

Carrie House June 7, 2012 at 12:00 am

Totally get that!! I choose wine by it’s laugh factor. If the title and/or picture makes me laugh – I buy it. Like the latest wine I found at the liquor store: It’s literally called …. the B word. I won’t actually put the WORD in here, but you get my drift. And on the back it says the WORD like 30 times, in lieu if a description of the wine.

Telling Dad March 11, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Bwahahaha! Madelyn, that is SO me when it comes to buying wine in a store. The marketing and design department secures the purchase, not the vintage or vineyard. I’m the same way…”oooo, pretty! It must taste good!”

I’m clueless in restaurants as well. It’s a complete and total guess because the names are all nonsense to me. It’d be far easier if they gave us pictures to choose from, no?

karen March 11, 2011 at 9:09 pm

My daughter chooses her wines like that. She has the whole collection of animal bottles….and also the collectible Red Sox wine bottles…empty of course.

Amanda @ Confessions From HouseholdSix March 12, 2011 at 9:05 am

I avoid the whole issue by not drinking wine. The sulfites give me migraines. Pass the tequila. When I did drink wine, I was another one who chose by pretty labels – much to my husband’s chagrin. He knows a little about wines, and he’d ask about it, and I’d say, “I don’t know. The label was a pretty color, and the price wasn’t too high if it tastes bad.”

Melinda March 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Lol! Love the revised menu which is the only one I understand. I’m not a wine drinker so the difference to me is red or white with red being the one I will for sure spill on my white shirt so I select based on the color I’m wearing. I’m sure they don’t cover this important consideration at the snooty table.

Jamie March 12, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Ok wait, does #91 really say it has a ‘long, QUININE-tinged finish’? Isn’t quinine what they originally used as a treatment for Malaria? Who wants to drink that? Except of course those infected with Malaria. If my info is correct it’s the stuff they brew out of a specific kind of tree bark. Can you say Bitter? EW!
Great post!

Lesley March 12, 2011 at 10:38 pm

quinine is also in tonic water. And its good for leg cramps. My mom drinks it daily. You can no longer get quinine pills in the US. Its not FDA approved. But the people who use it for cronic cramps in legs/feet/etc…drink tonic water. I’ll have to let her know there is a wine with it! Thanks! <3

Telling Dad March 12, 2011 at 5:23 pm

oh, I saw worse in our travels. Wine seriously described as having the flavor of tar, freshly mowed grass, leather, tobacco, wet wool, cabbage, and minerals.

No thanks! 🙂

Heather March 12, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Bwahahaha! I’m just starting to learn about wines – actually, Rhea, Cheryl and I are doing wine posts once a week. We pick bottles by their kinky names, are learning what the basics are and are generally acting goofy. Rhea had a three way last night 😉

The nose wafting motion cracked me up. Great post Greg!

Jen-Eighty MPH Mom March 13, 2011 at 1:02 am

Oh this is hilarious. You have hit the nail on the head. We would get along just fine while wine tasting. I’m going to share this with my brother – he is a “wine-taster with a sense-of-humor”, and I think he will appreciate your post 🙂

Alexandra March 13, 2011 at 1:42 am

Oh, this was a wonderful post.

Came over from Bloggess’ blogroll.

I went to a wine tasting with my husband.

It was worth the shared laughter on the way home.

As he said it, “you either like it, or you don’t. They can pay me to teach the class.”
I choose wine based on whether it’s a cool label or not.

Mom March 15, 2011 at 2:31 am

Howdy, Hon,
When it comes to wine tasting, your dad will admit to being the snob. I, on the other hand, like only sweet wines. The sweeter the better and I don’t care whose feet stomped on the grapes. Maybe you could talk your dad into moving the wine frig in the kitchen into his office…next to the one in there already.
Glug, glug, Mom

hogsatemysister October 3, 2011 at 1:21 am

We have about 10 million wineries in New Zealand. All produce good wine. All are going under. Well, not all. Just 99% of them.

It’s partially my fault because, in a bar or at the wineries, they almost always taste the same to me.

I hate the first one I try. Then after awhile I decide the first was the best.

I think this is a genetic problem. I am from Oklahoma. So wine? Not so much. But ask me about football or cows, it’s all good.

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