What Wine Tasting Type are You?

I spent a good part of Sunday standing behind the Astrale e Terra table at the Family Winemakers of California Annual tasting pouring a mountain grown Cabernet blend and Syrah for anyone who wanted to taste it. And that was a lot of people. I’ve done this sort of thing before, many times, on behalf of numerous wineries. You have the opportunity to observe people pretty closely under these conditions. Specifically, you have a chance to distinguish the variety of wine tasters. And there are a variety of types.

The SAGE is not the most common taster at these big events, but they are among the most interesting to just sit back and listen too. Of course with the SAGE, you really have no choice but to listen. They do all the talking. The SAGE knows everything about your winery, the wine you are pouring, the growing conditions in which your grapes grew and the exact quality of the wine they are tasting. It’s pretty amazing to come across someone who knows everything, which is why the best strategy is to sit and listen.  My favorite SAGE Comment from yesterday’s event came from a distributor sales representative who walked to the table and held out his glass and listened to me explain the grapes were grown at 1,300 feet in the Atlas Peak appellation. He proceeds to explain to me that the only reason Atlas Peak was able to get ripe grapes was because, "you get that wonderful afternoon sun from being on the west side of the Napa Valley." When I explained that Atlas Peak was in the south eastern part of the Napa Valley I was sternly corrected then told that "Merlot is really the best grape to plant up there." It’s at that point you just step back from the table and allow yourself to soak it all in.

They are questioners who are so purely interested in learning more you are almost taken aback by the multitude of questions they ask and their willingness to stay, talk, listen and question. They tend to be younger and you just know that they’ve decided to make a career in wine. You know you have a STUDENT at your table when they ask, "How deep is the top soil on Atlas Peak?" Or.."Can you compare this wine to the other mountain appellations surrounding Napa Valley. I love these people.


They are either anti-social or so into tasting they can’t be bothered. The SILENT ONES almost always operate like this: 1) approach the table with carrying bag over one shoulder, glass in one hand, note taking book in other hand. 2) Silently point to a bottle and hold out glass. 3) Spend a good minute with each wine, smelling, sniffing, swirling and spitting.  4) They write notes…long ones…silently. 5) Repeat with every other wine at table. Leave table. I’ve found the best way to accommodate the SILENT ONES is to service their apparent desire for efficiency as promptly as possible and hand them something informative to take away. Sometimes I’ll ask a question about their affiliation noted on their name tag they are wearing. This is just about the only way to break them out of their shell.

They have been in the wine business about five years of so and have met a few well known people, or at least tried their wine while the well known person looks on. This usually means to them that they’ve made an intimate contact with a famous wine person. As they taste the Astrale "ARCTURUS" or Syrah they begin dropping names of other wines they’ve tasted that are similar, but more important they make note of the people they’ve been hanging with. My favorite from yesterday was this: "You know I was just hanging out with Josh and we were…..Oh, Jenson, Josh Jenson of Calera…and we were talking about the craziness of the business over the past few years. Josh and I both think, and you know so does Carole Shelton, we all think the Industry isn’t in it’s boom stage yet." They have nothing to say about the wine in front of them. But they are very excited to be able to drop names of people they’ve just met. I like these people for their enthusiasm. They are clearly happy to be where they are.

These people have attended more walk around tastings than many people at the tasting. They are there to find new wines that fit into their wine list, their brokership, their wine shop, etc. They know what they like. They always ask the same things: Who handles your wine? "What’s the price (They mean wholesale price)? How much to you make? "Who’s your winemaker. These are the people you talk business with, find out what you can about their business and appreciate for their directness.

They stay late. They do not discriminate. They drink rather than spit. They socialize. They seek out common acquaintances. They are often very fun people. And they tend to get tipsy.

I’ve always enjoyed pouring at these types of wine tastings. It’s always nice too when you are pouring a wine that has a good story behind it and that was the case yesterday. But what I really enjoy is meeting and talking to the different types that make it to my table, trying to quickly evaluate what they are looking for and engaging in conversation.

As for tasting at these events, I’ve identified what type I am. I’m a combination of the Happy drinker and the student. Depending on how long I’ve been tasting I can be more one than the other.

Finally, it was great to meet so many FERMENTATION readers yesterday. Thanks for coming by and introducing yourselves. It was really a pleasure.


8 Responses

  1. Lenn - August 23, 2005

    I think I tend to be one of “The Silent Ones”…I spend a lot of time thinking and pondering when I do my own tasting at home. I sit on our coach, wine in front of me on the coffee table, notebook in hand…writing…sipping…swirling…
    Nena thinks I’m nuts…but it’s one of the few times when I feel totally focused!

  2. Jathan - August 23, 2005

    I’m the Name Dropper, except it’s all in my head….
    “Yeah, I was just playing soccer with Bo and Heidi, and we were discussing the Global Warming trends and how we haven’t seen enough screw caps yet. Hmm, what wine is this I’m tasting, it reminds me Cabernet…ohh it’s a Merlot…Very nice Very nice..”

  3. maggie - August 23, 2005

    I too am a “silent one.” Because I don’t want to get roped in by any NAME DROPPERS or SAGES, plus I’m working not cruising. If I like something I ask at the end, after all the schlubs have gone or are drooling in the corner.
    At tastings, I often hear Woody Allen’s voice in my head from I think Annie Hall, “what I wouldn’t give for a sock full of manure…”

  4. Alder - August 24, 2005

    Excellent menagerie you’ve got here Tom. I’ve seen them all in the wild…

  5. Benito - August 24, 2005

    I think I’m equal parts Student/Silent/Happy Drinker, though it really depends on the situation. I’ve made some amazing friends through a couple of tasting groups, and socialize with them on a non-wine basis. On the other hand, there are some other groups where I merely show up, run through the wines and take notes, and head home. And of course, if I’m hosting a dinner party/wine tasting, I’m a Happy Drinker/Sage–as for the latter, while I’m not an expert, I do a ton of research on each wine I serve so taht I may present it with all due fanfare.
    One more potential classification that has been missed: the middle-aged woman wearing so much perfume that it’s impossible to taste a wine beside her. Perhaps you’d call her the FRAGRANT. You taste enough wine and you start to get sensitive to aromas, and then one day you’ve just dipped your nose in a nice glass of Pinot Noir and a FRAGRANT steps in front of you, surrounding you in a cloud of jasmine and vanilla.

  6. Barbara - August 25, 2005

    Until recently I’ve been behind the table and met all those types. At the NZ Wine Show this week I was the taster side and that was an interesting experience. You could probably write a similar column on the various sales techniques. As I was there purely for pleasure I was part Happy Drinker and part Student. As a middle aged woman I’m never Fragrant. Actually my first thought when I left the industry was “I can wear perfume again!”

  7. Fredric Koeppel - August 25, 2005

    hey, don’t be so hard on the Silent Type! that’s me, down to the bag (something’s gotta hold the cell phone, the extra bottle of water, the digital camera in case there’s something to shoot, extra pens etc) and the way i approach the table, point, taste, take notes; you’ve got it exactly. but im at these giant tasting events (and ive been to a thousand) to work. most of them are zoos, with all those other tasters crowding the tables, jostling to get the best wines, not spitting so they get drunk or spitting carelessly (these events look like slums by the time they’re over) while im trying to, you know, actually get some experience of the wine in the brief time allowed and jot down a few meaningful comments. im not trying to be rude to the people behind the table; i assume they know that im there to work (there’s that journalist name tag)and that if i have questions, ill ask. at least im not standing there saying, “now what kind of grape is this merlot made of?”

  8. Jerry Hall - August 29, 2005

    We’re coming up on the Distributors’ Holiday Show Season, and this piece made me laugh. You might place me somewhere between the student, and business type – with a touch of the silent type… I don’t bring my own crystal stemware, though, so I must not be a sage!

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