One of the most exciting off-the-beaten-path experiences that we offer at Chloe Johnston Experiences is wine-tasting. We find unique, hidden vineyards that pair intimate experiences with award-winning vintners in the trade. Albeit enthralling, such experiences can be overwhelming, especially for your first time. Additionally, wine tasting in different cultures and countries comes with their own set of spoken and unspoken rules. As we get closer to the CJE Wellness Retreat, our travelers have been asking us tips on how to navigate wine tastings like a pro. These tips go beyond suggestions on being aptly dressed for the occasion and making arrangements for a chauffeur for the day, so we hope you enjoy and learn something new!
1. Before you begin a magical wine tasting journey, make sure that you have eaten beforehand. For the complete experience, wine tasting is not just about the taste but you’re actually pulling together all your senses to truly experience the depth and flavors of the wine. Thus, when deciding what to snack on before your tasting, it’s integral that you don’t have any overly fragrant foods and drinks. Even wearing heavily scented cologne and lotions can interfere with the experience.
2. Look for seasonal wines. Generally speaking, winters are more conducive for red wines and warmer weather calls for a switch to whites and rose. Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule. For example, there are fantastic roses that pair wonderfully with Thanksgiving dinner. Wines naturally match with the foods that we eat, which change according to the season as well.
Additionally, the wine industry is feeling the effects of climate change. As climate change affects agriculture, it becomes difficult for certain types of grapes to fully develop. Thus choosing seasonal wines allows winemakers and vineyards to adapt better and help sustain the production of their wines.
3. When it comes down to the actual tasting, engaging all your senses to truly experience the wine is a part of enjoying the wine you are drinking. Beginning with how you hold the wine glass – hold the stem of the glass and not the bowl as your hands can disturb the temperature of the wine. The next several tips can be referred to as the three “S’s”. You have probably seen people swirling, smelling, and then holding the wine in their mouth, sipping, and wondered what on earth are they doing. Starting with the swirl, this is done in the glass to aerate the wine and bring out the fragrance and flavors. Wine changes in its aromas, flavors, colors, and textures over time which is why decanting and swirling help bring out those flavors. After doing so is the perfect time to smell the wine to get a sense of what flavors are hitting your nose. It’s important to remember that wine tasting is very personal and though you and your friend may smell one note in common, you may also have a completely different set of fragrances hitting your nose and that is perfectly ok! And lastly, for the fun part, sip the wine to take in the taste, texture, and the flavors of the wine. If you have been wine tasting before you may notice the wine expert slurping loudly and then either swallowing slowly or spitting the wine back in the bucket. This particular technique is used to draw air into their mouth and through the liquid, which intensifies the flavors and aromas they’re evaluating. Spitting into a bucket is to avoid getting too drunk on the wine if a plethora of wines is being tasted.
4. Emotions need no translation and celebration too is universal! No matter the language you raise a toast, it is always for health, happiness, and prosperity. The French say ‘ A Votre Sante’; the Germans say ‘ Zum Wohl’; the Italians say ‘ Cin Cin’ (pronounced as Chin Chin, perhaps emulating the sound of clinking glasses); and the Spanish say ‘Salud’.
5. While tasting wine worldwide has so many similarities, there are also some unique differences. For instance, ladies doing wine tastings in France are expected to clean lipstick stains from their glass after each time they take a sip. Toasting before drinking is an inspired tradition that stems from the Roman and Greek culture of raising a glass to the gods before celebrations and vigorous clinking was a way to mix drinks to avoid attempts at being poisoned! ‘To toast’ was an Elizabethan tradition to literally put a toast in the wine to improve the taste of the wine as bread soaked up some of the acidity of the poor wines.
6. Maintaining certain etiquettes can make the experience more authentic. The host is the one who almost always pours the wine. When pouring the wine, it is imperative that the wine does not drip onto the pristine label of the bottle. Wine should never be filled up to the brim as it always needs space to breathe. Additionally, it’s good manners to wait for everyone to have a glass before raising the toast, and when you’re ready to do so, make sure to always look in the eyes of the people you are toasting… or as the myth goes, risk seven years of bad sex! Yikes!
7. Our team is divided when it comes to choosing between red and white wine. BUT we have all made that panicked phone-call to our moms asking her how to remove the red stains from our pristine table cloth or carpets. We have learned the hard way to avoid white shirts and dresses when we know we are to deep-dive into the world of red wine. We also make sure to keep a napkin to dab away the red wine stains from the lips and corners of the mouth that leave us looking like a bloodthirsty vampire.
8. Ask a French local to spot a tourist and they will point to someone drinking wine without any food to accompany it at 5 pm. You won’t find a true wine connoisseur gulping down mouthfuls of wine. Here, wine is savored, every sip punctuated with a bite of a deliciously flavored succulent dish. Just as someone would admire the multiple layers of oil glaze on the Mona Lisa, wine too is slowly admired as each sip opens up a whole range of flavors.
9. Ever wondered where different wines get their names from? Wines can either be classified by the type of grape they are made from, called varietals or the region where they are grown. For example, most wines grown in California are named for the grapes, chardonnay, pinot noir etc; because of the climate in California, most vineyards will grow multiple grapes thus classifying the wine by the grape and not the region. Throughout Europe, wines are named for the region they are grown as each region only grows a certain type of grape. For example, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chianti, these are all the regions where one grape is grown and thus where the wine gets its name. Even within types of wine, there is a great variety of flavor and texture, due to the climate of growing regions. A warm, wet year will produce grapes with a different flavor than a cooler, dryer growing season. This is why some labels and years are more valuable than others. Champagne can only be called champagne if it is grown in the Champagne-region, otherwise, you will simply see wine referred to as “sparkling wine”.
While some of these tips come in handy when you wish to navigate through your next wine tasting experience, the most important etiquette to remember is to relax, to know that wine tasting is a truly personal experience, and that the best wines always take you back to a place in time whether it was a first date, a wedding, getting lost on a trip and stumbling upon the best meal, or sitting on your porch kicked back with a book. It’s key to be mindful of the experience the host is trying to create, but remember you will always learn something new about the culture, the ambiance, history and even what your personal preferences are through this delicious experience.
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