Here are some insider secrets that will help you prepare for a weekend in wine country.
- Pack a lunch. Restaurants in wine country are often few and far between. The ones you find will be overpriced. Plus, you won’t get through many tasting rooms on an empty stomach. The max is around 8, and that’s pushing it… trust me. The bar crackers only go so far.
- Bring a date who is allergic to alcohol. They will come to be known as your “designated driver,” but let them discover this destiny along the way. Staggering sideways toward the car and dropping your keys as you fiddle with the lock is a good way to encourage them to discover their destiny. Then be effusively grateful. If needed, convince them to come with promises of all the great restaurants in wine country. Dates with sulfite allergies work too, but make sure they haven’t brought a secret stash of whiskey. Search them if necessary.
- Make evening plans. Tasting rooms usually close at 5. That’s usually a few hours before your buzz peaks. Do the math. I suggest over-priced dining, drinking of bottles you purchased during the day, fire of some kind, hot tubs, movies, skinny-dipping and dessert. I suggest doing these first one at a time, then all at once.
- Use Vegas money rules. At first you’ll just pay for a tasting fee. Then another. Then you’ll taste an amazing wine and you’ll have to buy a bottle. Then you’ll go to a winery where everything tastes good and you’ll say “One of each!” At the next one you’ll reason, with what seems to be utterly sensible logic, that you drink wine all year so you might as well get the buying part out of the way when you can taste what you’re buying, and you’ll come home with a year’s supply of pink champagne. Whatever you do to protect your money from yourself in Vegas, duplicate it in wine country.
Read Part 2 now: At The Bar.
There’s no right or wrong way to taste wine, but there are some things that will make you look really really stupid. The key to wine tasting is understanding that although in truth the whole experience is a glorified version of bar hopping, maintaining the illusion that that it is a process of appreciation, education, and sophisticated shopping is half the fun. These tips will prevent you from inadvertently violating this jolly pretense.
- It’s not a shot. Spend a minimum of two minutes with each glass of wine. To kill time, swirl the wine in the glass compulsively – there are really good reasons for doing this, number one of which is that it makes you look like you know what you’re doing.
- Get creative. If you read notes from a professional tasting you will be dumbfounded to find that a critic detected notes of things like “crushed pebbles,” “guava,” “forest mushrooms,” and “stone fruit.” How many glasses had they drunk? Consider for a moment that the sensitivity of your palate could possibly be equal to your ability to B.S. Stick your nose in the glass and smell the wine – yes, it smells like wine, but get creative. Take a big sniff. What’s that? Do you detect a whiff of… sunshine? Sea breeze? Dew covered blueberries? Yes, you do.
- Hold the stem, not the bowl, of the glass. It looks prissy, but you are preventing your hand from warming the wine. Prissy is good. In fact, stick your pinky out as you sip.
- There’s no accounting for taste. Wine should be described, not judged. If you hate it, never say so. Rather describe it as having aromas of “barnyard and freshly mulched earth” with flavors of “lead pencil and pasture clover” and a texture of “brushed tree bark and a finish like a nail in a coffin.” If you love it, describe it like the most romantic kiss of your life. “Intoxicating aromas of lilac and strawberry, rich and luscious with ripe, juicy fruit, plush and silky, with a finish that lingers in your mouth like steam on the windows of a car after you’ve made love in the backseat.” Go ahead. Get carried away.
- Pretend whatever wine you taste is the cure for cancer. Act as if you are holding a precious elixir, extracted over centuries, crafted by the life-blood of a thousand generations, delivered to you in sacred ceremony, solely for you to have a fuller, happier, and possibly longer life. You might, after all, be right.
Wine lingo can be as esoteric as entertainment industry gab, and it tends to sound twice as pretentious. A “hot” wine is overly alcoholic. The “robe” is the color of a wine. A “varietal” is the kind of grape from which a wine is made. A person who loves wine? Yes, a “wine-o,” but also, technically, an “oenophile.” How do you even pronounce that?
The descriptors that are the most fun personify wine. At a wine tasting you might hear people nod and agree, with a straight face, to a wine description such as “rich and well built, with nice legs, a sexy mouth feel, and a silky back end.”
One of the silliest words I’ve heard used to describe a wine is “drinkable.” Really? Because I assumed this was meant to be poured down the drain. That’s why I’m spending the ten bucks. My drain needs a wine rinse. Even better is “very drinkable.”
But the term I find to be the most insidiously pretentious is “approachable.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this tossed around in wine shops, in wine magazines, and on wine bottles. What bothers me about this word in particular is that it is used almost exclusively as a signifier. And what does it signify? Usually that the person speaking it thinks that the person hearing it has very little knowledge of and therefore pedestrian tastes in wine. Or it’s code for those in the know that a wine is not sublime.
What it means, essentially, is that this wine appeals to the undiscerning masses. It’s uncomplicated, unrefined, fun. Yes, you’ll enjoy it. Everyone does. In other words, “approachable” is a highfalutin way of saying – if I may coin a new wine term – “slutty.” Take it as you may, at least we’ve left the realm of pretense… and at Pinot Now, there’s no shame in a wine that goes down easy.