June 7, 2006
Sniffing, Sipping And, Yes, Spitting

Regular readers of Dunne on Wine in The Sacramento Bee may recall that I have been on a campaign to persuade the supervisors of winery tasting rooms to encourage their guests to spit more than swallow as they taste their way through a lineup of wines. Bigger, more attractive, more numerous and more accessible buckets are needed in tasting rooms for the benefit of both tasters and their fellow travelers on the generally narrow roads that wind through various wine regions.

The campaign has gotten nowhere, I concede. Nowadays, rather than struggle to find the tasting room's dump bucket and shoulder my way through the crowd along the counter to get to it, I've taken to bringing along my own personal plastic spit cup, the shiny red kind that customarily holds a hefty serving of beer from a keg at a backyard party.

If I had three hands - one for wine glass, one for spit cup, one for pen and notebook - I'd be a happier pilgrim at winery tasting room and wine festival, but for now this clumsy compromise is a workable alternative.

But as I was reminded this past weekend at a community wine tasting in Grass Valley, visitors to winery tasting rooms and similar festivals need to keep a few other things in mind besides spitting. With the Grape Escape coming up Saturday afternoon, when wine enthusiasts will make their way from table to table as some 60 foothill and valley wineries pour tastes in Crocker Park, here's a half-dozen tips concerning wine-tasting tactics and etiquette:

1) Decide going in to concentrate on a particular varietal or style of wine. For example, devote the first hour to focusing on a white like chardonnay or pinot grigio, the second hour on a red such as zinfandel or cabernet sauvignon. If you want to learn of wine and of your own tastes, this kind of strategy is the best way to use your time.

2) When you find a wine you really like, grab a label, business card or winery brochure and jot down a note about it, including vintage. A wine may be so good you'll think you couldn't possibly forget it, but chances are that two hours later you will.

3) Between wines, clear your palate with a drink of water or a bite of cracker, bread or fruit.

4) Don't smoke and don't wear a heavy scent; smoke and perfume or cologne will interfere not only with your own assessment of a wine, but your neighbor's as well.

5) After getting a pour, step to one side of the table or pull back to allow other tasters to get a sample; winemakers may be fascinating, but don't monopolize their time.

6) Attend a wine festival or hop from winery to winery with a friend with whom you can swap candid and helpful opinions about the wines. If it's a real good friend, they may even offer to hold your spit cup while you jot down notes.

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