One of the great ways to expand your palate beyond a wine club is by tasting wine with friends. This is one of the ways Sommeliers grow their wine knowledge, they taste a broad diversity of wines – lots of grapes from lots of regions. You can pretty easily emulate this yourself.
A Tasting Group
The simple move is to find some friends that want to expand their wine knowledge and invite them over. The usual rule is that everyone brings a bottle to share with the group and they have to know something about what they brought so they share the wine and the knowledge. This doesn’t have to break the bank. There are lots of wines with great typicity under $20 a bottle.
As the host, you set the theme for the wines. Perhaps California Chardonnays or Old World Wines or Rhone wines or even sweet wines. It’s really your call and hopefully over time you cover a gamut of wines you might have never tried. Some, you’ll love and others you wont enjoy as much (remember, there is no bad wine). A more structured approach would be to use the wines on the Certified Sommelier Test, which has an excellent diversity of typical wines You can find links to the testable reds and whites on www.ProfessionalDrinking.com
Once you have selected the theme for the wines, the host provides the glassware, some nibbles and a spit bucket (yes you should spit). I like to have plenty of water around to dilute the wine and cleanse palates.
Usually one person reviews the wine, visually, smell and taste. Once they have weighed in, others can chime in with their views and if they had the same experience. You can do this open, where you know the wine or blind where it is revealed after the tasting is done. I like to wrap my bottles in aluminum foil to hide their identity because it’s available and stays put until I want to show off my bottle.
Pro Tip: If You Are Tasting Wine, You are Spitting – Otherwise You are Drinking
If you really what to taste like a Sommelier, you can use the Deductive Tasting Method to focus on each element of the wine, eyes, nose and taste. You’ll find a link to this at www.ProfessionalDrinking.com as well. The further benefit of the grid is that is gives you language to describe what you are smelling and tasting. That’s usually the thing most people need help on
Pro Tip: Buy in Apples; Sell on Cheese
Whenever you’re tasting wine, it’s best to have clean palate so you can really taste the wine. One way to clean your palate is by eating apples. You can also drink a little champagne to freshen things up. What you want to avoid, however, is eating cheese. All wine tastes good with cheese! That’s why the winery will put it out for you to sample. But this can be a trap because you’ll think the wine is so great at the time only, later after you’ve brought the bottle home, you experience some buyer’s regret. So it’s ok to eat the cheese—after you’ve already made your buying decisions.
Visiting A Winery
I feel the need to offer some special advice if and when you visit a winery as part of a professional drinking event—especially if it involves visiting multiple wineries in places like Napa Valley. One obvious tip here is avoid driving: hire a bus or an Uber to ensure you’re not driving while drinking as I mentioned before.
The other tip I will share is that you’re there to taste the wine—not to drink it. Consider that a typical tasting involves trying four to six different wines. If you repeat that three or four times, you might be in serious trouble. That’s why I encourage you to take advantage of the spittoon. It’s there for a reason. Sommeliers are spitting out wine all the time. It’s ok. The point is not to drink all the wine they put in front of you. To help avoid temptation, I will even take a sip and then pour the rest of the glass into the spittoon. Your goal should be to find wines you find delicious and then either buy a few bottles to bring home with you or ask for help in having them shipped to your house.