How NOT to Drink Wine
There are thousands and thousands of wines in the world, but we've only room for about 500. How to choose what we put on our shelves? There's really only one way: TASTE.
So every spring we head off to big trade tastings organised by leading importers, or generic groups specialising in particular countries or approaches (e.g. organic.) These tend to be held in conference halls or hotel function rooms in Edinburgh or Manchester or London, and typically features several dozen winemakers and importers standing behind trestle tables laden with their sample bottles.
And at the stroke of ten o'clock I stride in with my glass in one hand notebook and pen in the other, excited to make new discoveries, revisit old favourites, and test the latest vintages. Let's go! Swirl, sniff, sip, spit, scribble. Swirl, sniff, sip, spit, scribble. Swirl, sniff, sip, spit, scribble...
Repeat 80 or 100 times...and suddenly it's four o'lock. Your fingers are stained red, your teeth feel like they're going to fall out of their sockets, your cheeks feel like they've been sandpapered by those big tannic reds you finished the day off with. And despite not having drunk a single glass all day long, your head is swimming... (The twenty seconds each wine spends in your mouth before you spit it out is just long enough for some alcohol to pass into your blood stream. Only a tiny bit...but 100 tiny bits add up to quite a lot.)
This is definitely NOT the way to drink wine! The right way to do it is sitting around with friends or family, ideally with a meal, or at least a bit of cheese, and take your time enjoying the wine and the company, each increasing the pleasure of the other as the evening wears on. Enjoy just the one wine, or maybe a white and a couple of reds if it's a big meal - but certainly not 100!
But for your friendly local wine merchant, these trade tastings are a must. There's simply no other way to get to know a large number of wines in a short space of time. At the end of the day I stumble out into Princes Street or Piccadilly with an invaluable treasure: a wine-stained notebook with 100 or more scribbled notes - the morning ones tending to be more detailed and legible than the late-afternoon ones. (And also winemakers' phone numbers, ideas for wine festival events, sketch maps to show someone from Argentina where Orkney is.) These notes will be the basis of what's on our shelves, and on restaurant wine lists, for the year ahead.
And. - oh, alright, I admit it - I do enjoy these events, even though they are definitely NOT the way to drink wine.