WinoledgeAfter spending a good deal of time working in the family wine store, I can safely say that I’ve learned a thing or two about the good ol’ grape. Beyond the Winoledge of knowing how to pair wine with food, what makes a Cabernet a Cabernet and why you shouldn’t snub Merlot, I realized a pattern among people who considered themselves to be “unfamiliar with wine”. First of all, once you understand that there’s more than just one varietal of wine, you’ve opened the door to a wild and wonderful world!

I think the worst thing about the Wino World is that it seems like a very exclusive club and membership is only obtained by being a hoity-toity snob. Fortunately, this isn’t always the case, but of course you will find those dorks in blazers sticking their schnozes into the depths of the glass (there is a reason for this, however).

Because I don’t consider myself to be a connoisseur by any stretch of the word (that would be my aunt and uncle), I can understand the frustration and intimidation that comes with learning about wine because trust me, I’ve been there.

To crumble that intimidating wall between the Average Joe and the Wino, I’m going to answer some of the most plaguing questions that people have asked me before wine tastings, just to get ready for it.


1 I’m going to my first wine tasting, what should I expect?

Depending on the tasting environment, such as a restaurant or a wine store, each tasting will be a little different. Some wine tastings will be a lot more formal than others in terms of atmosphere, the featured wines, and even the crowds that they draw– these are often the tastings that require you to make a reservation or buy a ticket in advance. The informal wine tastings may or may not require a reservation, you should call ahead to get that information if they don’t tell you already. To be on the safe side, I would dress business casual if there isn’t a stated dress code, it’s just a matter of etiquette. Expect to be learning a lot about different wine, so bring a little notepad with your tasting notes!

2 Should I spit it out or swallow it down?

There’s no way to dodge any innuendo there, so just know that I’m aware of it’s presence! This question involves the tasting again as to whether or not you should swallow your sample or spit it into the provided bucket. Well, there isn’t a rule that you have to spit it out, but it’s encouraged. Don’t think of it as spitting, per say, so much as you’re getting your palate ready for the next taste. Consuming all of the wine that you taste can confuse your palate (esp. if you had one really strong wine and then a weaker one), going off of that point– your palate won’t be the only thing that’s a little hazy after consumption; consider the effects of alcohol– especially if you’re driving home– and spit it out!

Tip: Let the wine linger in your mouth for about 8 to 10 seconds so you can get acquainted with it, and then proceed to spit (politely– I’ve seen some violent spitting at the wine tasting, that’s just gross).

3 What if I don’t like the wine that I’m tasting?

This will probably happen a lot more often than you think and the people hosting the tasting know this. Here’s the common rule: if you don’t like what you’re tasting, don’t be an ass about it. You never know who is at the tasting and don’t ruin the impression for everyone else. A lot of tastings are done to boost the sale of the featured wines, so don’t deter others from trying it out based on your lone opinion. Many tastings will have a dump bucket (or the spit bucket) for you to use; simply dump it out and cleanse the glass with water if it’s provided. I can tell you from knowledge that the spit buckets are dumped periodically throughout the tasting and water is replenished– don’t worry about that too much.

4 And if I do like the wine?

Depending on the format of the tasting, you may be able to pick up that bottle directly from the tasting station or order it. I highly recommend that you take notes about the characteristics of the wine that you enjoyed as well as some of the flavors and aromas you noticed– it will help you later. You may even want to talk to the pourer to see if they can recommend a similar style of wine to you to expand your horizons.

5 What’s with tilting the glass, the sniffing, the swirling, gargling and buzzing?

There are reasons for this such as assessing the color, releasing the aroma, and getting a full taste of the wine. There’s actually a lot to this ‘ritual’ and everyone has their own style of doing it– you’ll notice that if you go to a tasting. Don’t worry about doing it yourself if you aren’t comfortable with it, you may make a big mess. Simply enjoy the wine and take notes if it’s your first time around and I also recommend to ask one of those sniffers why they’re doing it. You’ll get a whole bunch of different answers. Check out this article written by Jilly Goolden titled, “How to Taste Wine”. It’s a really great description of not only how to master the ritual, but also an explanation and some tasting advice.

6 Is it bad to like White Zinfandel?

Not if you like it, no! Let me tell you an interesting story. Our wine store was located close to a concert amphitheater and we often had tour managers of bands stop through to get alcohol. On one occasion, I had a disgruntled British man wander into the store and ask me to point him in the direction of the White Zin. He proceeded to pick up two bottles with a snarl and I made the joke that it obviously wasn’t for him. He smiled at me and asked me if I’d like to know who it was for and of course I said, sure! He reached into his pocket and pulled out a tour pass for Ozzy Osbourne– apparently, Ozzy loves the stuff. Wino’s look down on White Zin for many reasons with one being that the style is often compared to a wine cooler which really lacks the profile of a finer wine, like a Cabernet. Even though it’s frowned upon, it’s still one of the top selling wines in America. In my opinion, it’s a great opening door for people. If you like it, that’s great! If wine snobs don’t like it, so what, you may not like the stuff they consider to be phenomenal. I only encourage White Zin lovers to branch out and try other styles of wine just to experience them; consider the W.Z. your opening act.

7 What’s with the food pairing? How do I do it?

As with most things in food, certain things compliment each other, like pancakes and maple syrup. When you throw wine into the mix, you have to consider that some wines have an abundance of flavors and aroma and the art of pairing has been perfected so that the wine can taste better because of the food and the food can taste better because of the wine. If you’re making a nice dinner and serving a really great wine and you want your guests to appreciate the wine, you can plan accordingly to make the taste cohesive and bring out the best of everything. The basic rule is this: reds with red and white with white. That’s…very basic, but red wines with red meat and white wines with white meats.

While that rule will get you far, I also recommend picking up one of the Wine Wheels from Amazon. A basic wheel will guide you a little bit better around food pairing. I also recommend checking out the Racheal Ray Wine Guide which features different wine styles pre-paired with yummy recipes and even wine recommendations. This is a good way to show you how you can properly pair and bring out the flavor.

8 What’s so bad about Merlot? (i.e.: “I’m not drinking any f@#$ing Merlot!”)

All of this hostility towards Merlot is a product of the movie, Sideways and the pop culture wino phenomenon that soon came after it’s release. While I am a fan of the movie, I mean let’s face it- Paul Giamatti is a doll - I was a little annoyed with the pseudo wine knowledge that stemmed after. People were scowling wine stores for the elusive Pinot Noir and shunning away from America’s Sweetheart, Merlot. In fact, there was a French Pinot Noir that was named something like “Sidelong” and people would immediately gun for it over others on the rack. To answer the question– I don’t find anything to be wrong with Merlot.  I know some will tell you it’s not as full-bodied as a Cabernet and they can lack the complexity of one, too. But… I’ve had some really great Merlot and I don’t think anyone should neglect them!

9 How many wines are there in the world?

In terms of this question, you have to consider the differences between “wine”. You have wine in terms of varietals (or grape) like Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Then you have wineries which are often referred to as labels, but people will generally say, “I had a really great wine yesterday, “Night Harvest Merlot”. So in terms of varietals, there are a ton. People are coming up with new varietals all of the time. In terms of labels– there are also a ton. Here’s a good snippet from “There are over 10,000 documented varieties within species Vitis vinifera (the “European” or “true” wine grapes). Of these, on a commercial scale, primarily three are used for raisin production and less than a dozen for table grapes, while about 230 have some prominence in the world of fine wines and hundreds more are used for wine in limited or local areas. The wine consuming public, however, tends to focus on only a hand full of these.” There is also a chart on there with some varietal names, too.

10 Any other questions?

You tell me! I don’t know it all, but I can give you an answer from my perspective or at least point you in the right direction. I’m still learning about wine, I have so much more to learn, but I’m perfectly fine with extending my knowledge in wine.

If you have any other questions, let me know! Let’s get a convo going, shall we?

So let me ask you a question: What’s your favorite wine and why is it your favorite?

Here’s to learning about everything in life and letting your knowledge extend beyond many horizons!


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