Wine tasting events — and, quite frankly, tasting events in general — can be incredibly overwhelming. The tables stocked with exciting wines waiting to be discovered, the dueling crowds of wine enthusiasts and know-it-alls, the little devil on your shoulder telling you not to worry about pacing yourself.
For this reason, we turned to wine expert and Wine Riot co-founder Tyler Balliet for advice on how to get the most out of a wine tasting event. For the uninitiated, Balliet's company, Second Glass, put on the first Wine Riot event in Boston in 2009. The concept has since enjoyed so much success that this year they've taken the party on tour, hosting events in five cities across the country (the next one is in New York City September 24th and 25th, followed by one in Washington, D.C., October 21st and 22nd). Despite a serious lineup of local and international winemakers and expert-led crash-course seminars, these events are first and foremost about making wine education fun. That's right, fun — as in wine-themed temporary tattoos and party photobooths.
Read on to see what advice he had to share.
Make a game plan
When tasting wine, it is generally advised to start with the lightest varieties, then move into the heavier ones, and finish with the sweet wines. That said, Balliet recommends starting with what you're most interested in first so that you're not experiencing palate exhaustion by the time you get to your favorites. Another good piece of advice? "Just make a game plan — which could mean, for example, deciding you want to start with French and Italian wines and then move onto California and South America." Even if your route seems a little arbitrary, having a plan will help you stay organized and keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
Seek out the story behind the wine
Don't feel like you need to impress the winemaker with your tasting notes. "People think they need to be like, 'I get notes of raspberry, a hint of x-y-z on the nose.' But nobody does that, that's not how people buy wine," remarks Balliet. Instead, he encourages folks to dig a little deeper and really engage the producers with questions about the process — seek out the stories about how a particular vintage came to be. "You don't necessarily have to ask about the wine itself, you can ask about where the wine came from, how it compares with other wines in a similar category, what the conditions on the vineyard were like," explains Balliet. "Every single bottle has a story."
Drink outside of your comfort zone
Tasting events present a unique and incredible opportunity to try a wide variety of different wines within a relatively short period of time. At Wine Riot, for example, attendees are exposed to some 250 wines from 40 different producers from the world's major wine regions. So, while it's important for you to be in tune with what varietals or styles you prefer, it would be a shame to miss out on discovering something new just because you're playing favorites. Plus, it's a lot more efficient than branching out with something new from the wine shop, only to get home and realize it's not what you were hoping for.
Don't be afraid to say you don't like something
Maybe you tried a glass of the chardonnay and weren't really a fan. Don't sweat it. To the above point about drinking outside of your comfort zone, the benefit of these events is to help fine tune your preferences. Says Balliet, "Tasting wine is a lot like listening to music, in the sense that you could be listening to the best country band in the world, but if you don't like country, you're not going to like the music. If you know what you don't like, you can figure out what you do."