Tasting wine is an interesting business. Whether it is wine professionals like us who taste through many wines a week as part of our job, or for wine enthusiasts and consumers for whom it is a passion or enjoyment, we all come at it from a different spot. The trick though is not to let our predisposition on wine, and our wine habits, overrule the exercise of tasting and the benefit you can derive from it- the benefit of expanding our own wine journey, the one that goes beyond just appreciating a good glass of wine.
This is the challenge that we talk about frequently and experience in our own work in the wine industry, balancing between our favorites, and all else that is still out there to try. We all need, at times, to push beyond our comfort factor and to try new things that challenge our palates and our predispositions.
Even in the shop where we taste many wines each week, we have to constantly remind ourselves to keep an open mind. Mary related a story she recently read about the great Martial Arts master, Bruce Lee. He was discussing his approach to each scene during the filming of a movie. He said, his “first challenge was to clear my mind, to approach each fight sequence from its own perspective.” The same is true of wine. When we taste at the shop to evaluate wine for inclusion in our collection, our distributors will place their bottles on the bar. We look down the lineup at the labels and we start to form opinions. We will probably like that; probably won’t like that. That wine will likely taste like this; that wine will probably highlight those flavors. We have to force ourselves to stop. We must, as Bruce Lee says, clear our minds. Evaluate each wine and assess the flavors on their own without our preconceptions.
For wine consumers, you may have to be a bit more aggressive to beat back these impressions and opinions that take hold before we taste any wine. One way to accomplish this is to join a tasting group. When tasting with a group it forces us to slow down. Our colleagues will talk about each wine in their own way, describe what they are tasting using their descriptors, and evaluate the wine for preference and price based on their own palates. This new take coming from friends and colleagues will help expand our own criteria we are using to evaluate wine.
When you taste with your group, change up the wines you are tasting. Have a night of tasting focused on a specific appellation from a different country or region around the world and be sure to choose some of the lesser known and more far-flung places. Another option is to focus the group on a specific varietal, but add the enhancement that each member of your group has to track down that varietal from a different part of the world.
I get it. As much as anyone I have my favorites too, but if you really want to expand your wine journey and truly open your mind to all the different flavors, nuances and quality of wine, this is a way to get you there. Another fun addition to try with your wine group is to blind taste the bottles. Tell each member of your group to bring their favorite wine under $X. Place all the wines in paper bags, then taste. Clear your mind and really focus on flavors and quality. You and your fellow group members will all have surprises, I guarantee it.
When you are not with your group, make it a point to select a bottle that is outside your comfort zone to bring home. It is OK to have most of your purchases be your favorites, but pick just one that is completely different from your norm. It is a pretty small commitment to freshen your palate and see what you really like. Similarly, if you are out to dinner or just meeting someone for a glass of wine, pick something off the glass list that is not your go-to pick. Avoid the reflexive choice of Chardonnay in white and Cabernet in red to stimulate your wine imagination.
Having more choices of wines, we feel comfortable that we will like one when selecting a bottle or glass is the goal, while at the same time always expanding our wine journey. To do this though, we need to leave our predispositions behind and really experience what we smell and taste.
If there is a topic you would like to read about or questions on wine you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d’Alene Press.
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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party — a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.