I recently went wine tasting on Long Island’s beautiful North Fork with a relative newbie to the pleasures of bellying up to a winery bar to sample a few vintages. He was understandably concerned about the proper way to go about it without looking like an asshole. It got me thinking of useful advice for the first time, or the next time, you venture out to dance with Bacchus.
– Wear something halfway decent. Don’t look like a hobo. You can further amuse yourself and your tasting companion(s) by dressing as if you’ve just stepped off your yacht or the golf course. Salmon-colored Dockers shorts and a lime-green polo, for example. Secret hilarity ensues but you actually fit right in.
– Swirl, sniff, sip. Never spit.
– Also, never ever dump the excess contents of your glass in the bucket. There are thirsty winos in Midtown who’d kill for that last swill. Besides, it just makes you look like an arrogant prick and makes the wine servers hate you.
– Always butter up the pouring staff. But not in an overt, unctuous way. One way to accomplish this is to roll your eyes at the more obnoxious customers in a quietly commiserating way. This will ensure bigger pours for you for looking understanding, nice, and sober in comparison to all the other lushes.
– Throw around the following words. Doesn’t matter if you know what they mean in regard to wine: “finish,” “varietal,” “mouthfeel,” “legs,” “terroir,” “crunchy,” “silk-tastic,” “groovy.”
– Go ahead and free associate. If a wine reminds you of your grandmother’s puddin’, that’s okay. If it smells skunky like certain illicit substances, own up to that. All’s fair, and creativity is necessary once you’ve tasted more wines than you can possibly remember.
– Don’t be afraid to amuse yourself by describing wines with adjectives usually reserved for describing an individual of the opposite sex. It’s fun! For example, try “perky,” “brash,” “sassy,” “corpulent,” “seductive,” “flaccid,” “alluring.” You get the idea.
– When all else fails, claim a white wine tastes like “grapefruit” and a red wine tastes like “elderberry.” Can’t. Go. Wrong.
– Realize that you will not be able to properly enunciate “steel-barrel-fermented” after about the second winery. Or maybe that’s just me and my problem pronouncing “R”s. Yeah, that’s it.
– Ask every winery if they have a Sangiovese, just because “Sangiovese” is really fun to say.
– When wine tasting outside of California, always find a way to casually mention you are from California, even if you’re not. This commands respect (or resentment? meh, it’s a gamble). Then say, “Your varietals are so different from those grown in Napa. Why’s that?” But say it as if you actually have any idea what you’re talking about and as if you actually think their wines hold a candle to California’s (which, obviously, they won’t, but see above about staying on the pourer’s good side).
– For god’s sake, eat something during the day. You don’t want to be “that guy” getting punchy by 2 pm. (And by “that guy” I mean that chick who suddenly yelped loudly at the winery bar and then went on to shout about how she’d just found a pine needle poking her in her pants.)
– When you spot palate-cleansing munchies on the bar, follow this simple rule: Oyster crackers: yes (salty and delicious). “Wine crackers”: no. Watch out for these dinner-mint-size nuggets that do nothing but suck all the moisture from your body within seconds. Seriously, we could have used these puppies to soak up the BP oil spill.
– Beware of winery parking lots with more than one limo or stretch Hummer. You don’t want to be elbowing your way to the winery’s bar as if it’s Coyote Ugly at closing time.
– Always be the cutest couple at any winery.
– Always pretend you’re considering ordering the more expensive wine flight but then pretend to find some reason to go with the lowest priced (“Oh, I had that nice simple Chardonnay last time, let’s try the Cheapskate Collection!”)
– Even better, visit a wine region that still gives free tastings. (Hi, Murphys! I miss you! I’ll be back soon!)
– Buy a bottle occasionally. I mean, nothing fancy (what are you, rich?), but it is ostensibly what you’re there for.
– Never go wine tasting with anyone with whom you have simmering tensions. Sipping wine all day has a tendency to up the truthiness factor and this can be bad news. Or so I hear.
– If you go wine tasting in Murphys, California, do not, I repeat, do not go to Kautz Ironstone. Those people are bastards and their wine sucks. Screw them and their giant gold nugget. (Well, okay, go see the nugget but then find better wine elsewhere.)
– Do, however, say hello to all my old classmates who are now working at wineries in downtown Murphys. Tell ‘em Carrie sent ya. Then buy me a bottle and ship it here as gratitude for all my helpful advice.
– Do buy a bottle somewhere that you can sit outside, listen to live music, stare out at the rows of grapes, and reconsider your city-slicker existence. Trust me.
Photo by me at Corey Creek Vineyards, Southold, N.Y.