When you want to learn more about a food or beverage, one way to accomplish that is to attend tastings. There are many wine tastings, beer tastings, spirit tastings, and tastings of various food items. However, some of you don’t live in areas that offer these events. Also, some of you either can’t afford to attend these or want to create your own event with your own spin.
My Background on Tastings
I have been to quite a few wine-tastings in my life and have put quite a few together, as well. Long ago, I had also started attending more events for other types of tastings. I’ve been to some spirits tastings and even a bitters tasting (yes, as in the type of bitters that go into mixed drinks — there are many choices for them, now).
It can be so frustrating when you want to learn about something. There are so many choices for any of the things I just mentioned. It’s can be overwhelming and it’s hard to know what to spend your limited budget on. I’d been to a session given by the Wine Curmudgeon and his comment to all this is that the one way you can really learn about wine is to keep trying it and drinking different things to find out what you like and learn what is available. I agree with him. Trying more things is the only way you’ll learn. You can go out and buy random items, try some wine club that select wines for you, or follow the various lists that are published.
Selecting Events So You Can Attend Tastings
On the other hand, it can be instructive to pay to attend tastings where you will get some guidance. If you know nothing about wine, probably just about any event is a way to get started. Look for one at a local store that has a wide variety so that you can try a little of a lot of things.
If you already know a little about wine, you can start to look for events that are specific to an area or type of wine you want to learn more about. Some of these will focus on wines in a price range that you are interested in. This is true of the other drinks, as well, such as the spirits tastings. However, I will admit that I am now trying to attend more events for more premium items. I mean that I am willing to pay a little more to taste those items that I would not spend my own money on. I don’t want to invest in them — I just want to try them.
Do It Yourself
At some point, you might be interested in tasting something at an organized tasting but can’t find a tasting for whatever it is that interests you. If you want to attend tastings that you can’t find in your area, you can, instead, create your own tasting. If you’ve been to a tasting, before, you already have the notion that you need some variety of items. You already know to watch the prices. In some cases, you want to get a wider price range so that you can see what the difference is between the cheapest one and the others. Other times, you might stick close to a price to compare items within a price range.
You might put this together with your friends or family members who might be interested.
Some Ideas to Create a Tasting
Keep the tasting item list small. If you’re doing this for the first time, don’t stress yourself or your taste buds out with a lot of items. Also, since only the most serious among us actually do swallow what we’re tasting, you don’t want to get anyone too liquored-up that they can’t taste all the items. That’s another reason to keep the number of items small. For wine, stick with 4-6. For spirits, stick with 3-4. If you do a bitters tasting, you’ll be tasting a few drops of each one. Even though most do have alcohol in them, it probably won’t be enough to affect you. However, they’re not that cheap, by the way, so you might not want to try lots of them. Also, in a bitters tasting, you might want to end by making a few small cocktails to share that use the tasted bitters as examples.
Keep your pours small. Don’t buy enough of anything that people will be drinking an entire glass or bottle of it. BEFORE you open and start to pour, tell everyone how much to pour for themselves or others BEFORE they make the mistake of filling the glass. If you have tiny glasses, use those to enforce this. Some people might come back and pour themselves more, but at least they’ll start with the modest amount. However, the leftovers are certainly something to look forward to. If something is truly special, make sure one person doesn’t hog it. You want to give everyone a chance at those extra leftover bits.
An Example: Our Gin Quest
Example: My spouse and I were talking about gin. We like gin and started wondering, “What should gin taste like?” and “What should good gin taste like?” With that in-mind, we went to a local store that carries a lot of gin brands and varieties, both large and small batch, and asked for some help. We ended up with almost a dozen gins and genevers (a Dutch style of gin) to compare. We are were tasting them all at one time. It was a larger project we did together. Also, we bought a fancy tonic water and a cheap tonic water so that we can compare those for gin and tonics.
We had tasted two gins at a spirits tasting but wanted to attend tastings just of gin, in order to answer our questions. However, we couldn’t find any gin tastings in our area.
The Key to Selection
When I’ve put together tastings or brought something people really like to a meal or party, people ask me what my secret is? They want to know how I select these things. Notice in my last paragraph I said I went to a local store and asked for help. That is my #1 tip: find a place that carries things that you are interested in and who are helpful and knowledgeable. Then just make them pick for you. 😉
Many Thanks to the Local Wine Shops
I’m totally serious, here, but I’d put together events such as wine tastings for 50 people, gone into my favorite store and just asked them to help me pick something.
I might say something like, “I need 6-7 sauvignon blancs from New Zealand falling around the $<whatever> range and I need 3-4 bottles of each for a tasting.” And, they always help me get there or, I don’t have waste my time looking when they tell me they don’t have whatever I just asked for. Notice that I hardly did any work in that. I will admit I normally start by personally buying a bottle of each to personally try and make notes on. Afterwards, I’ll go back and buy the bunch. There were times that I didn’t need to do that or where it wasn’t practical. For example, if a shop is having a difficult time keeping something in-stock, you might need to buy it when you see it.
One more tip: I purposely go at quieter times so that I can pretty much get their undivided attention.
Yet another tip: when you regularly do this, they get to know you and will be yet ever so helpful at those other times you come in to randomly ask things like, “Hey, what’s cheap and good in the Merlot bin, today?” 🙂
Since I’ve put together tastings and have been a member of organizations and groups of people that do these things, I find myself often giving people advice. At one point, a friend of mine wanted to do a sake tasting for one of his groups. He was concerned about knowing how to buy the right thing and also how to organize his tasting. With regard to sake, since it can get expensive and tricky to know which ones are served cold, which ones hot, and since most of us aren’t that familiar with it, he is in luck, actually. His town has a restaurant that specializes in sake. My suggestion was to go there. Then, he can ask them to setup a sake tasting or a meal that includes sake with the courses for his group.
He also was considering doing a tequila tasting or a scotch tasting. Between sake, scotch and tequila, I think that tequila is the easiest. Most of us are a little familiar with it and there seem to be more choices in a cheaper price range than scotch, for example. I made some suggestions to him plus I gave him the link to my favorite tequila web-site. Tequila.net.
I’m Not Trying to Ignore Beer
I haven’t mentioned beer, at all. I hardly ever attend beer tastings. I drink enough of a variety of beer that I don’t need to do that. Going to brewpubs and trying their beer samplers is one of my hobbies. So, I get plenty of beer variety by doing that and also just by buying it at the store. However, with regard to beer, beer can be hard because the choices are staggering yet also easy because most beers are relatively cheap to purchase.
My tip for beer is that no-one gets an entire bottle of any beer, of course. If I were doing a beer tasting, I think I’d do 4-6 and pick up a six-pack of each. Or, if you’re doing “fancier” beers, a big bottle of some of the Belgian and other special beers will be $10-$20. At that price, one bottle will be sufficient to cover many people. It will give a number of people a small taste.
What Should You Expect to Taste?
If you attend tastings or even create them, yourself, the point is to learn more about the product. With that, people often ask me what they’re supposed to taste in wine, beer, etc… My response is that you taste what you taste. I go on to ask what they taste and tell what I taste. It’s about a shared experience. We can learn from each other but we all have different tastebuds.
I don’t mean that I’m so coy about it that I don’t share the tasting notes. It’s fun to read tasting notes that tell what the maker of the wine or spirit thinks you might taste. I just mean that I encourage people to feel okay about it if that’s not what they’re personally tasting.
But I am not a wine professional, a wine judge nor do I claim to be any kind of wine expert. However, I’m actually quite knowledgeable about both wine, beer and many types of spirits. Thus, I don’t need to be too concerned with tasting all the right things. Instead, I’m more concerned with learning about what I’m tasting and, overall, just enjoying myself. If there’s anything we’re “supposed” to do, I think that’s probably to enjoy it.
One More Thought
In this blog post, I spoke about alcoholic beverages. However, keep in-mind that you can apply this to just about anything. You can attend tastings of almost anything consumable. I’ve seen hot chocolate tastings, coffee tastings and tea tastings. There are chocolate bar tastings. There are and can be tastings of anything, really.
If you wonder whether there’s any variation in what people taste in a tasting, keep in-mind that people do have different taste buds and experiences. As mentioned in a previous blog post, this is a factor when tasting anything. To read more on that, read a previous blog post, ” Learn To Taste.”