Sniff, swirl, spit

A newbies' guide to the Taos Winter Wine Festival

Molly Steinbach
Posted 1/30/20

Picture it: You walk through a door into a huge room full of tables. People are milling around, chatting, nibbling on cheese. And on the tables is: wine. Lots and lots of wine. You have a glass in your hand, and no idea where to start.

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Sniff, swirl, spit

A newbies' guide to the Taos Winter Wine Festival

Posted

Picture it: You walk through a door into a huge room full of tables. People are milling around, chatting, nibbling on cheese. And on the tables is: wine. Lots and lots of wine. You have a glass in your hand, and no idea where to start.

Wine tastings can be overwhelming even to veterans, but this veteran would like to share with you some tips for successfully navigating a wine tasting like those you'll find at this year's Taos Winter Wine Fest.

The temptation, of course, is to want to taste everything. Unless you move like The Flash and have the constitution of Paul Bunyan, this is not a realistic goal. So to make sure you hit all the highlights, whatever those might be for you, it's essential to have a plan.

I approach wine tastings like a shark: just keep circling. On my first tour around the room, I scope out what wineries and importers are there, and make mental notes about which ones I want to visit. On my next tour, I'll taste some sparkling wines and some whites. The third tour around the room is for reds.

When you're standing at a tasting table, you'll see two indispensable things in front of you (besides the wine, of course). The first is a pitcher of water. Some people like to rinse their glasses in between wines, but I think the water is put to much better use by drinking it. Water helps to freshen your palate between wines. Also, even if you aren't swallowing every mouthful of wine, alcohol is still being absorbed into your system, and you want to stay hydrated.

Which brings us to the second item: the spit bucket. I know it's tempting to want to swallow all that lovely wine, but you'll get to taste far more of the choices if you pace yourself. The person pouring the wine will never be offended if you spit their wine out; in fact, they expect it and recognize it as a sign that you are a serious wine taster.

That said, spit buckets are gross. (Ask me about the time I saw a really big one spring a leak. People were running for the exits.) And spit bucket splash-back is the worst. I prefer to carry a small paper cup with me, spit into that, then empty that into the spit bucket. Much less chance of getting an eyeful that way.

A few other words of advice: Don't wear shoes you can't stand in for long periods of time, or after your sense of balance is … compromised. I was pouring at a tasting once when a woman in spectacularly high heels tottered over to my table, held out her glass and went over backward like a brick wall in an earthquake. Don't be that lady.

Also, don't hog the table. You're encouraged to speak with the winery representative, but it is my number one pet peeve when someone plants himself in front of the table and prevents anyone else from getting a taste. Move to the side, and share the wealth. Your fellow tasters will appreciate you for it.

This should go without saying, but arrange for a safe trip home. Even if you've been spitting, there's still alcohol in your system.

And, finally, don't stop at just the tastings. The Taos Winter Wine Fest has an amazing lineup of seminars to fill your brain with wine knowledge, and winery dinners hosted by the best restaurants in town to fill your belly with good food and drink. It's a great time to be in Taos -- enjoy it!

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