How Not To Do A Walkaround Wine Tasting
I remember being very, very new to the wine industry. Fresh with a graduate degree and recently hired at a wine PR firm in Santa Rosa called Gracelyn Associates, I knew just enough about wine to get myself in trouble. And of course I did just that.
One of the best places for the wine neophyte to get in trouble is at a large walkaround tasting. That's where I chose to embarrass myself; at my first, large, walk-around wine tasting. I blame my boss and more experienced colleagues. They should have warned me.
I recall walking into the cavernous ballroom and being shocked. All I saw were suits, countless tables manned by more suits, the flash of glasses and wine. Lots and lots of wine. The only thing I knew was that my badge allowed me access to all of it.
This sunday I'll be attending what, by all past accounts, is an outstanding walk-around tasting. It's the Grand Tasting of Pinot On The River at Rodney Strong in Healdsburg. More than 100 Artisan Pinot Noir producers will be pouring multiple bottles of their best. Here's the things I won't do at the Grand Tasting of Pinot on the River because I have the capacity to learn from my mistakes:
2. Wear white of any kind
3. Carry anything in my hand but a glass
4. Attempt to sound smarter than I am.
So picture this: A drunk wine neophyte wearing a wine stained white shirt and no jacket, holding a glass in one hand and fumbling a bevy of brochures and dropping them on occasion while I explain to Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards why his Lytton Springs bottling would have been better if it had a higher percentage of Petite Sirah in the blend. What made this impromptu lecture at one of America's greatest wine producers a piece of art was the slurring.
The walk-around tasting gets a bad wrap by many wine professionals primarily because it often means crowded rooms, not enough time to talk to the producers pouring the wines and because it's difficult to really assess individual wines when sampling so many in a milieu not best suited for serious evaluation. There's something to be said for this criticism. But the criticism really only applies if you are looking to use a walk-around tasting to seriously evaluate wines.
Don't do that.
Use the walk-around tasting to do three things:
1. Acquaint yourself with wines with which you are not familiar.
3. Learn from the folks behind the tables pouring
This is what I'll be doing on Sunday at Pinot on the River's Grand Tasting. This must be one of the most impressive gatherings of serious, truly artisan Pinot producers anywhere. The line up of wineries is ridiculously attractive. There are more than 100 of them including AP Vin, Ahh, Failla, Halleck, Hirsch, Kanzler, Keefer Ranch, Morgan, Peay, Roar, Sea Smoke, Testarossa and The Donum Estate, to name only a few.
Returning to the scene of my first real wine crime, I was finally led away from Paul Draper by a colleague while in mid-lecture. Based on future meetings with Mr. Draper, he appeared not to recall the incident. I was guided into the foyer of the ballroom, sat down on a bench and lectured by my more experienced, unstained colleague. Nicely. It wasn't a fall down drunk or anything. But just enough to teach me the benefits of spitting and keeping my mouth shut most of the time.
Pinot on the River will be my first walk-around tasting in a while. It's conveniently located in my home county, produced and sponsored by The Pinot Report and has the endorsement of one of the legendary Walk-around Tasters in our business, Alder Yarrow: "Pinot on the River…is one of the best wine tastings I've ever attended."
If you are looking for me, I'll be the guy in black.