Tasting etiquette from both sides of the table


On the train on the way to London for yet more sniffing and spitting. Tomorrow, there’s the annual Argentine bash plus the autumn tastings of two of the UK’s top importers, Boutinot and Liberty Wines. Overload on one day surely? Maybe for those who live in London, but for those based elsewhere who aren’t around every day of the week, it makes sense to try and pack as much into as short a space of time as possible. Personally, I go to try as many wines as possible in order to get a good overview of whatever region/country/retailer/importer is showing off their wares. Which means that I won’t be at my most erudite tomorrow evening. But whatever your modus operandi for wine tastings, here are some tips for both exhibitors and visitors…

Behind the table

  • Have the wines in the same order on your table as they are on the list, and check that the vintages/cuvées you’ve said you’ll show actually match up with the bottles you’ve had delivered.
  • Keep an eye on your wines. Reds at body temperature and whites straight from an igloo are not at their best. Nor are delicate wines that have been opened six hours earlier.
  • Give us space on the tasting sheet to write our notes.
  • Shut up when we’re tasting. If we want information, we’ll ask for it. The worst thing to do is to tell us what you think a wine tastes of when we’re tasting it ourselves. Similarly don’t hijack us. There are other wines apart from yours that we might want to taste. If we want a lengthy history of the winery, complete with PowerPoint slide show, we will ask for it.
  • Don’t pour us too much. Giving a drinking rather than a tasting sample won’t make us like your wine more. And you’ll resent it when you see us pour the significant remnants away. Better still…
  • Let us pour the wine ourselves. By all means put those slow-pourer thingies in so we don’t get greedy, but waiting several minutes while you politely introduce each wine to each person just makes us impatient.
  • Take criticism on the chin. Not everyone likes my children.
  • Be aware of when others are wanting to taste wines. You can still pour wines for other people while carrying on that fascinating conversation about rootstocks, coopers and picking dates (all of which of course are vital for customers’ understanding of your wines).
  • Have enough of each wine on the tasting sheet so you don’t run out several hours before the scheduled finishing time. If supplies of something are limited, have it as an under-the-table special for privileged customers.

In front of the table

  • Don’t abuse the hospitality. Someone is paying serious money to put on the tasting. Those who guzzle excessively at lunchtime should be named and shamed, and those who arrive with shoplifting bags should be dumped in a spittoon.
  • Move away from the table. You’re not the only one who wants to taste the wines, so once you’ve got some of the precious fluid in your glass, stand back and let someone else in. Similarly…
  • Move away from the spittoons. They’re not there to stand and chat around. Now when any lard-heads stand next to them, I tend to gob as forcefully as possible in the hope that they’ll get the whip-back.
  • Do not hunt in packs. Restaurants are the worst culprits here, swanning around in groups of three or more with everyone trying the same wine at once. If you must do it, get one of the group to grab a double-sized sample and share the glass around.
  • Be constructive in any criticisms. Don’t tell people you enjoy their wine when you don’t – they’ll only make more of the same. But if you don’t like something, try at least to say something without resorting to Rottweiler language.
  • Don’t try and taste too many wines. A mistake I still make today. Maybe if it’s just a case of ‘yes’ or ‘no’, then you can get through 200+ wines, but if you’re trying to be a little more critical, you may find your final tranche of notes hard to read. And anyone who says they’re still fit to drive after tasting 50 wines is wrong – don’t get in a car with them.
  • Don’t smoke for two hours before a tasting. Otherwise you smell of it and it puts us off the wines (just as true for those behind the table). Ditto for perfume and aftershave.
  • Flag up faults. If you think there’s a problem with a wine, begin with something diplomatic like, ‘Is this wine showing as well as you’d like?’
  • Don’t hog the winemaker – none of us is as interesting as we think, and there are other people who might want to ask a few questions.

Anything I’ve missed? Do add it in the comments…

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