An Oregon vineyard. (Photo: gymnast46 / Thinkstock)
As I’ve gotten older, I have begun to develop a more discerning palate for vino (meaning I now feel comfortable ordering it). Since I no longer consider franzia to be a complex grape, I thought it was time to test my wine knowledge, and more important, find out if I could convince anyone that I myself am an aficionada.
So, in the spirit of adventure, I attended the 2014 Wine Spectator’s Grand Tour event in New York. The hefty ticket price of $225 offers you the chance to test over 200 wine varieties.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t fooling anyone about my future as a sommelier. I came to find that these tastings are attended by the who’s who of wine industry folk, vendors, investors, and “experienced” drinkers. But I did learn a few tips and tricks about how not to stand out—and how to pretend to be a wine snob.
Know wine, will travel. (Photo: Thinkstock)
1. Wine is the true international language, so know your geography. There are so many vineyards all over the world, and new vineyard vacations are popping up all the time. Baja, California, has some amazing family-run vineyards. Vineyards in Oregon are impressing, as well, attracting almost as many crowds with the state’s eco-tourism visitors. Outside of the States, it seems, Mendoza, Argentina is the last “secret” in vineyard tourism.
2. Begin your tasting with Champagne, of course. If you’re in America, it is common practice to begin a wine tasting with Champagne and work your way to red wine. Since our palates can only handle so much, you should start with the lighter flavors “in order to experience the full bouquets.” However, in Europe, they do the complete opposite, starting their tastings with red wine. So, I guess it’s really depends on what kind of snob you want to pretend to be.
3. Don’t wear perfume … or lipstick. One of the first pieces of advice that I was given was that to experience the true essence of the wine, you should ideally be in “an environment devoid of sensory experiences.” Apparently, when retailers go to vineyards to make wine purchases they do their testing in stark white rooms.
Whoops! (Photo: Emily Scharnhorst)
4. Hold your glass on the stem! Apparently this is a duh that I was unaware of. True wine aficionados would never risk warming their glass with their grimy paws. It’s a dead giveaway to your amateur status. Lesson learned.
(Photo: Emily Scharnhorst)
(Photo: Emily Scharnhorst)
5. Decide your favorite year, grape and age before a wine-tasting event. Know what you are talking about, or at least be able to fake it. Everyone coming to this event knew their wines. They were not just there to learn, they were there to brag. I found success in just nodding and asking people’s opinions—as the more wine “tasted,” the more opinions offered. Since wine is so subjective, a lot of information is shared about grape heritage and vineyard history. Study up.
6. Corks are for more than a Pinterest project! A revolutionary idea that I took from this event was that you should save the corks from the bottle of wine you like. It’s such an easy way to remember the wines you want to remember. Real wine snobs told me that they have collections of corks from their favorite years and from wine memories. The wine snob’s version of a vacation slideshow, I’m sure.
Corks—the ultimate travel souvenir. (Photo: Emily Scharnhorst)
7. Use your wine lingo. I overheard statements like, “I prefer a little youth in my wine” and something about the “perfect clone of a tempenero.” I think that my comments about how “I would enjoy this wine on my couch” were not quite up to wine-snob standards. Wine is a serious hobby, and aficionados spend serious cash on their past time and knowledge. There is no time for sarcasm.
8. Spit. Seriously. Quite honestly, at first I thought this was disgusting and a horrible waste of perfectly drinkable wine. However, this is a wine-snob habit that is required to allow yourself to fully enjoy the entire evening (and the next morning). Don’t be shy to spit out wine that you don’t enjoy. It actually makes you seem like you have wine standards. Rinse your mouth with water, spit, and move on to the next bottle.
Spit bucket, spit take. (Photo: Emily Scharnhorst)
9. Just because it is expensive doesn’t mean it’s for you. I started out following the hover at the event. If crowds of wine snobs were around something, I assumed it would be wise for me to follow. One mob led me to tasting a $500 glass of Chateau Margaux from Bordeaux. It wasn’t for me! By this point I knew the tannins were just too strong for this gal’s taste buds. It’s true that wine is a truly individual experience and although there is a specific vocabulary and an air of sophistication around its consumption, the true aficionado is able to articulate their own individual taste when it comes to wine. The true wine snob does not have a mob mentality.
10. Don’t forget the dessert (wine)! By the end of a tasting you are probably ready to hit the road, but you would be missing out on an under-appreciated wine family member. Dessert wine historically comes from Hungry. Who knew? It’s yummy, goes great with dessert, and is the perfect way to wrap up the night.
It was a long night. (Photo: Emily Scharnhorst)
Emily Scharnhorst is recovering from years of producing reality television while currently producing video content for Yahoo News with Katie Couric. She spent her youth moving around the country with her family and is spending her adulthood traveling around the world with her notebook.