Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Trade Tastings - 'Tis The Season

Trade tastings range from relatively small displays in the distributor’s offices with some cheese and palate-cleansing crackers, to overblown events with rows and rows of wines and booze, big screen televisions pumping club music, “booth babes” in tight black dresses, and food spreads like you have only seen at your second cousin’s fourth wedding.

I am here to tell you that tasting season is anything but fun. I know what you are thinking. “Oh, cry me a river. You have to taste wine and eat food for free all day for a living. Rough life". Sure, on the surface you might think that attending a trade tasting is a dream day at work but I hereby challenge anyone to try it for a week and then dare to disagree with me.

I am not going to try and convince you that tasting season does not have its highlights and benefits such as discovering new wines, re-tasting old (and pricey!) favorites and, in some cases, having the opportunity to speak to winemakers in person about their brand or brands. In order to fully appreciate the highlights, however, you should first be aware of the lowlights.

The Purple Teeth Effect. Tasting hundreds of wines a day (and I am actually talking about tasting and spitting — not drinking) will inevitably give you purple teeth, a feeble buzz, a horrible taste in your mouth and a dull headache later in the day.

Liquid Lunch. Tastings generally begin around lunchtime and run through early evening. The food available at the tastings is generally not enough (the requisite cheese and crackers), too clumsy (picture a long line of tasters piling crab cakes, cheese tortellini and lamb chops on to one small plate) or completely inappropriate (it still blows my mind that so called wine experts will put asparagus, artichokes and vinaigrette dressing — the holy trinity of notorious wine killers — out on the buffet table).

Pourers Anonymous. Pourers can be annoying. Some pourers are jus plain oblivious (just let me pour my own wine then, please), overzealous (you will never get to the other 200 wines at the tasting if they keep babbling on incoherently about their wines) or just plain stupid (when someone suggests that a wine on the table is corked, they are most likely not doing it to piss off the pourer but to let them know that the wine is not showing well. Save the BS and open another bottle.).

Splash Buckets. Spitting wine isn’t pretty to begin with and the last thing you need to see is a dangerously full spit bucket. Spit buckets are an essential element of the serious trade tasting but they are all too often hiding behind wine bottles, being blocked by annoying “belly up to the bar” tasters, nonexistent when wineries think their product is just too good to spit, or painfully full.

Wine Overkill. Tastings can be overwhelming. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of wines on display will not help brands stand out but instead will tend to blur them together in one incoherent grapey mess. In our estimation, it is physically impossible to taste more than 60 or 70 wines in one day (and that is stretching it) and assess them accurately.

You may still think that attending a trade tasting sounds like a lot of fun but, hey, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Oh, and did I mention that when the day is through and you have brushed the purple stains off of your teeth and tongue that you have to think about waking up and doing it all over again? Sweet dreams and happy tastings!

As anyone in the wine industry will tell you, we are in the midst of “Fall tasting season." This is when most of the big wine importers/distributors show off their portfolio of wines in an effort to get potential buyers to place an order. There is also a “Spring tasting season” which operates under the same premise that these exhibitions will increase orders or, or at the very least, boost interest in the wines.

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