Not every wine drinker knows that someone who orders Chianti with fish is likely an assassin. Though in From Russia with Love, Bond knew never to pair dry reds with seafood. And drinking from the spit bucket was fun to watch in Sideways, there are a few issues with that behavior as well. Knowing the etiquette for every vino situation can seem overwhelming at times, especially given the importance of the wine industry on Long Island. But it doesn’t have to be, and a little knowledge can go a long way to enjoying the experience. Whether it’s in a restaurant, wine store or tasting room, follow these tips for making wine events less intimidating.
It’s a conversation with the sommelier—not a lecture—and if you don’t know where to start, start with what you know. Guide the sommelier (also referred to as a wine captain or steward) to the price and style of wine that interests the dining party. Don’t know the style (like crisp chardonnay or intense cabernet sauvignon) that the table wants? Reference some speciﬁc wines that everyone’s enjoyed before. This not only helps the party make a choice, but gives the wine steward a good place to start. A good wine captain will suggest something in the target price range and also a touch above and a touch below. S/he will also likely suggest a wine they personally love. If the restaurant’s wine list has only a few recognizable producers, chances are the others are little gems the wine director has carefully chosen.
Wine Store Tasting
These are usually informal affairs so simple rules apply: Taste the small sample poured, don’t demand a large pour and try the other wines too. If there is a wine you want to taste again, that’s ﬁne.
This is the only time when spitting in public is classy. Just make sure you hit the bucket. And the crackers aren’t for snacking; they’re for cleansing the palate between wines (water works too). Being analytical about wine can be intimidating, especially in a public place. Don’t let it be; wine is just another beverage. Most winemakers are farmers or fancy themselves as such. No pretensions are needed, just listening and asking thoughtful questions. Keep in mind that our most heightened sense is smell, which is the most important part of wine. So take a noseful before drinking. The hardest thing about tasting wine is remembering to let the senses enjoy and absorb the experience. Swirling the glass helps integrate oxygen into the wine and lets aromas and ﬂavors bloom. Some people swish the wine in their mouths and do other “rituals,” but it’s unnecessary. (Some might call it showy.) Try to identify ﬂavors and aromas on your own, but don’t be shy about leaning on the tasting notes provided. Use any words that make sense to you, even if that happens to be “manure.” (Usually termed “barnyard” in wine speak.)
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