If you know the difference between a Beaujolais and a Barbara, then this is not the article for you. If you had to Google those terms like I did, keep on reading.
What I know about wine could probably be reproduced onto the average sized wine label. Not very much. I know what I like (pretty much everything) and what I don't like (heavy reds that give me headaches). Everything else is irrelevant.
That is, until you go wine tasting, at which point claiming your undying love for Peach Cooler might give away your inexperience at the cellar door.
Smile and nod if you don't understand what they're talking about
These are my top tips for complete beginners to make it through a wine tasting without embarrassing yourself.
1. Bring a friend: not only is it more fun to drink in company, but someone has to be the designated driver (and it may as well be them). It's probably wise that your friend isn't a wine snob, unless they are a very tolerant and charitable wine snob, in which case, they might help cover your complete inexperience.
2. Walk to the bar and choose a spot to stand. This is not a sit-down event. If there are buckets dotted around the bar, stand near one of these. You can spit in them (no really).
On appproach at the Tempus Two winery in the Hunter Valley
3. Let them guide you as to the order of wines you are going to try, which is typically lighter whites, sparkling, rose then reds. You don't have to try everything, and it's probably better if you don't.
4. They will pour a small amount into your glass. Don't stand around waiting for them to fill it to the brim. Then follow the 4 'S's: stare, swirl, sniff and sip.
a. Stare: you're meant to look at the wine. Admire its colour. The older the wine the more cloudy it can be. If it looks super light and clear it might be water… don't get caught out by this (it happens).
b. Swirl: without sloshing it on your shoes, gently swirl the glass. Professionals will be looking at the wine's 'legs' and admiring how much body it has, but if you're a novice I would suggest avoiding any talk about legs and bodies in case you are accused of sexually harassing someone. Just admire the colour again.
c. Sniff: at this point we are determining the wine's bouquet or aroma. It might just smell like wine to you, but unless you're known to be a joker just keep that one to yourself. There is a whole galaxy of terms used to describe a wine's aroma including well worn favourites like blackberry, green grass and chocolate and less common descriptors like wet dog and sweaty.
I would strongly suggest you wait until you get back to the car before you start saying a wine smells like a wet dog.
d. Sip: this is pretty obvious. Don't chug the wine like you are at the local pub with the boys. You're meant to sip it with your mouth open so it mixes with the air and enhances the taste, but you run the risk of accidentally blowing bubbles in your wine if you don't know what you're doing. Just sip it gracefully, preferably with a sage look on your face while nodding slowly.
5. There is an optional 5th 's' which is spit. This is probably the only place in the world where spitting your wine out is perfectly acceptable. You can do it a) so your tastebuds don't get too confused b) so you don't imbibe too much booze or c) if you hate it.
Make sure you spit in the correct receptacle. Hawking into your hand bag is not a good look, and kids, don't try this one at home.
6. You don't have to finish each sample, especially if you're a light weight and beginning to feel like it would be a good idea to get up on the bar for a dance. Simply tip the remainder into the spitting receptacle.
7. Ask for water if you want to rinse your mouth out between wines. Pay attention to what they are pouring in your glass though, your cover will be blown in you start waxing lyrical about the fruity notes of the wine if it turns out you're drinking water.
8. Take notes during the testing. You will be given a sheet with all the wines produced by the winery and at the very least you should mark it with a little tick or cross as you go. Even if you have no intention to buy anything, at least you will look intelligent. If you do plan on buying something you can look back and remember what you enjoyed. It's a better than saying 'I can't really remember… can I have another taste?'
9. Then again, maybe that's not such a silly idea.
10. Congratulations, now you have finished Wine Tasting for Idiots 101. In vino veritas.