HOW TO HOLD A WINE-TASTING FOR THE
Having attended hundreds of "trade tastings," I thought it
might be helpful to offer some suggestions and tips for holding such an event.
Presumably the goal of most organizers of a trade wine-tasting event is to show
off the wines so that potential customers, buyers from shops and restaurants,
actually will place an order.
Attaining this goal seems to be a challenge for many tasting organizers.
And I am using the word "organizer" loosely, since only about half the
trade tastings we attend qualify for the word "organized."
Many seem as though they were a spur-of-the-moment event, hastily put
together. If you are going to invest the time and dollars in coordinating
a tasting, why not do it so everybody wins?
SELECTING A DATE & TIME
This may not seem like a difficult thing to do, but
please check to see if there's a holiday in the vicinity of the tasting, as this
may hamper attendance if buyers are busy preparing for an intense sales period.
Being close to San Francisco, where traffic can be a nightmare, it's a good idea
to see if there's a sporting event on the day you've selected. Or a
protest march. There is always some group that's upset with
something and so it's very easy to schedule a tasting during the middle of some
major protest march or demonstration.
Many firms select a day early in the week.
This has some benefits. Many restaurants are closed on Mondays or
Tuesdays, so buyers can attend, if they choose. Stores are moderately busy
on these days. I can tell you, attending a tasting on a Friday is damned
near impossible, as it's a busy day for shops and restaurants. And any
retail buyer who is able to attend a Saturday tasting is probably one of those
who don't sell much wine. Period.
I would suggest holding the tasting on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.
This gives an efficient company the opportunity to take orders and have the
wines delivered before the end of the week. Nothing like striking while
the iron is hot. Especially if the wine is already in inventory in your
Be sure to allow sufficient time for the tasters to have a look at the wines!
We attended one trade event recently which featured a
group of 150 wineries. The event was all of two-and-a-half hours
long! Do the math: I had 150 minutes and 150 wineries.
A group of Sonoma wineries hosted a tasting in Santa Rosa. The tasting
featured 50 wineries each pouring, at least, one wine.
But the tasting was slated from 3 in the afternoon until 4:30. A buyer
coming from San Francisco needs, basically, more time to drive to the event than
they'll have to actually taste wines.
I pointed out to one of the organizers that even buyers from Mendocino's
Anderson Valley or Napa's Oakville needed well more than an hour to get to the
venue. What if they encounter traffic? Aren't the people attending
the tasting as buyers going to be stressed out at having so little time and so
Further, the organizers didn't give themselves sufficient time to effectively
communicate their story and sales-worthiness of their wines with such a small
Start the tasting early enough in the day to allow
customers to get there and back with a minimum of lost time.
I am amazed how many tastings are held late in the day
so that no orders can be placed immediately following the tasting. It is
also annoying that so many tastings are conducted so that we are forced to
combat rush hour traffic. That's a colossal waste of time!
The big liquor distributors routinely schedule their "tastings" (if
you want to call them a 'tasting') late in the day as these are typically
conducted for the convenience and pleasure of management, not customers, sales
reps or purveyors. The management likes to, then, go drop a few bucks on
dinner and drinks at restaurants (which also happen to be accounts or customers,
SELECTING A LOCATION
While this wouldn't seem to require an IQ greater than
a high Robert Parker score, there are several factors to consider.
1. Is the place large enough to accommodate the volume of tasters AND
provide enough space for the wines and auxiliary staff?
Having attended tastings in cramped quarters, I can
tell you NOTHING TASTES GOOD when you're being bumped and bruised more than the
San Francisco 49ers' current running back as he's attempting to gain yardage.
2. Is the prospective site within a reasonable
distance for customers to get to?
Given that we actually have work to do, getting away
from the shop for more than a couple of hours is a challenge. We simply
don't have time to attend your tasting event that's a hundred miles from the
3. Will your customers be able to find parking?
One recent tasting event was held in a location in San
Francisco where the wineries and early tasters locked up all the available
We were invited to a wine event at a restaurant which did not have valet
parking. There was not a parking facility within 5 or 6 blocks of the
place. After spending 40 minutes driving around in search of a suitable
place, we simply drove back home.
In this instance, we'd have been helped had the organizer or host suggested
we park downtown and take a cab ride to the restaurant.
Another crew hosted a tasting in a "hip" North Beach (San Francisco)
restaurant and bar. This part of town is routinely "under
construction" and there were no economical, open lots within a block or two
of this location. I cruised by a large public lot several blocks away and
it was full (1:30 in the afternoon!)!!! This cost a half an hour of time
just searching for parking...
Keep in mind the cost of attending a tasting not only affects your wallet, but
I really appreciate being able to find a place to park that's free or close to
free. Paying $15 or $20 for parking when I'm already on the hook to have
extra staff at the shop in my absence is a hefty price. I have to sell a
lot of wine, if I find any at your tasting, to cover this expense.
We were thrilled when we'd entered a parking facility and upon registering at
the tasting, a tasting crew member asked if we needed a parking pass!
Bravo to that company for thinking of that little courtesy!!!
4. Is the lighting good?
If the room is too dark, you're not in a place conducive to
wine tasting unless it's an underground cave in France.
One importer, who offers a lot of 'natural wines' chose a place where the
lighting was quite poor. I needed a coal miner's hat (and lantern) to see
the price list, labels of the wine bottles and, more importantly, the damned
wines! Maybe it makes a certain amount of diabolical sense to hold a
tasting in a dark room when you're selling oxidized Chardonnay and brown Pinot
5. Is the temperature controllable?
I've attended tastings in locations where the weather
is usually moderate. But on the occasional day when the place feels like
Sicily, tasters are not going to be comfortable when they're sweating profusely
because the temperature is in the 80s or 90s. Further, your wines are
going to suffer if they are served close to the boiling point, also.
Do you have access to controlling the air conditioning or heating, if need
be? This may be wise.
Alerting your customers to the fact that you are
hosting a tasting is always a good idea.
Some firms seem to prefer to alert customers after the tasting or to not tell
them at all. I am unclear as to the efficiencies of this system, however.
The invitation should have the date, time and location clearly noted.
June 31, 2004
99 Points Boulevard
Sometimes, having driving directions to the location is
a good idea. We were surprised to note of the five sets of directions to a
tasting in the east bay, not a single one guided clients from San Francisco to
the tasting site. Not surprisingly, very few City accounts attended that
Most accounts will not bother to respond to the request for an
"RSVP." So you might be surprised by how well or how poorly
attended your event is.
One good idea is to have your sales reps personally contact their accounts with
One firm decided this was more efficient and less
costly than mailing invitations. They discovered their sales reps were too
busy to hand out invitations and, not surprisingly, the event was poorly
I dropped a note to a bigwig with a US importer to say I knew a couple of
accounts who carry his wines which were not invited to the distributor's trade
tasting. He wrote back a terse, scolding note saying they had been
Why would the accounts say they did not receive an invitation?
Why he wasn't concerned was curious, but with further conversation with our
colleagues (and competitors), maybe it has something to do with the sales reps
not calling on the accounts, missing appointments several times and then being
too embarrassed (or ashamed) to make amends.
And then, please ask them to remind accounts a day or
two before the tasting that they are expected at said tasting.
Being as busy as we are, it's easy to forget about a
tasting event, even though we have invitations and noticed posted in a wall in
A week after holding a trade tasting, the sales rep arrived in the shop to ask
how I liked the various wines being offered. I explained he had not given
me an invitation or notified me about the tasting.
"I thought you knew." he told me.
"If you didn't tell me, how would I know?" I replied.
"I thought you knew." he told me. Again.
WHO SHOULD ATTEND YOUR TASTING
Some of the large distributors prefer to organize a
tasting which is more of a circus than an actual sales event. They are of
the mentality that "The More, The Merrier."
These sorts of events, populated by dozens of "amateurs" who are there
more for wine drinking and "grazing" purposes, are more of a
"thank you" to these customers than an actual, serious wine-tasting
and sales presentation.
When I have to elbow my way to the table to taste
someone's wines, it is difficult to really have a good look at that producer's
products. Some firms will actually invite bone fide buyers, principals and
a staff member or two to come to the tasting an hour or two before they allow
entry for the riff raff.
A couple of Bay Area firms actually turn away people
who are not legitimate customers.
Some stores or restaurants think nothing of sending
their customers to trade events under the guise of their being affiliated with
One recent tasting featured some very rare and very expensive wines. While
it would be nice to share these with as many tasters as possible, the importer
felt a sense of duty to the producer to have the wine offered to potential
customers who might actually BUY the wine.
What credentials do the attendees have?
It's easy to print some business cards with "WeSellWine.com" or "VaFanculo's
Ristorante" on them.
Some firms actually request attendees bring the original invitation to gain
entry. Others have a roster of customers. Some simply ask for a
business card (which allows the bus-boy from VaFanculo's to get in and
We routinely see "fringe" industry people at
tastings. These people seem to know about every open bottle of wine
We are all for wine purveyors showing their products to
as many people as possible. But we attend tastings in an effort to
discover new wines to recommend. I don't view the task of tasting as
anything easy, but making it more difficult by inviting or allowing in hordes of
people makes the job more challenging.
Company staff people should not be tasting during
'tasting hours'. It's a good idea to have distributor, importer, sales
reps, office crew assistants and the like taste the wines being poured.
Perhaps doing this before customers/buyers arrive would be a good idea.
I've attended numerous events where I can't easily access the wines being shown
because the sales company reps are busy tasting or "schmoozing" with
producers or winery reps. The purpose of the event is to show the wines to
customers, so having the sales company staff impeding this effort seems to be
working at cross purposes, doesn't it?
Currently fashionable are "late night" events, as some companies seek
to court the "sommelier" crowd. These sommeliers are often
youngsters who would certainly benefit from a bit of wine education. I
attended one recently and question the whole notion of this sort of circus.
The first table was in a dimly lit area adjacent to the main tasting room.
There were few spit buckets, for one thing. Secondly, by 11pm the place
was jammed to the point that it was like trying to hold a "wine
tasting" on the Tokyo subway during rush hour.
Having tasted at two of the ten stations, I found the place to be seriously
gridlocked and the temperature in the tiny room was near 80 degrees.
Did I mention a lack of spit buckets?
Doesn't this create a certain amount of liability for the restaurant, the
hosting distributor and all the wineries participating? It's a late night
event and people are fatigued...I thought it was a bit risky.
Of course, since nobody bothers to RSVP, it's difficult for the hosts to know
how many folks are coming.
Better, though, to have too much space than not enough.
Many tastings have a registration table. Some small firms know
virtually every customer, so a name tag is not necessary.
Larger companies often "tattoo" their tasting attendees with a name
tag. I don't like wearing one, but I don't mind, most of the time.
Some firms offer a particular color of a name tag for shops and a different
color for restaurant accounts. This is usually because many wineries have
two-tiered pricing, the shops paying a higher price (despite our being a
long-standing customer, paying our bills in a timely fashion, costing the seller
less money to make a sale and their wine being far more visible in our hands
than in the hands of a restaurant which is likely to go out of business in the
next 12 months).
Why not discriminate on the basis of hair color or religion, while you're at it?
One winery posted its pricing for all to see.
$360 a case for shops. Restaurants, however, could buy the same exact wine
for $240 a case.
I know the arguments in favor of this two-tiered pricing dynamic. I don't
like it and don't buy into this marketing, since it's based on a 30 year old
sales model that needs updating.
The late Claus Riedel had been producing fabulous wine
glasses for many years. The firm which bears his name is a leader in wine
glass design and production. They would organize tastings of wines in
various glasses to convince capable and knowledgeable tasters that wines would
taste better if served in the proper stemware.
Poor glass for critical tasting.
I don't think you have to have top-of-the-line glasses at a tasting, but having
a good quality, lightweight, elegant glass is very helpful in showing off your
A small, but serviceable 10 ounce glass, for example,
means not a huge amount of wine has to be poured for a decent taste.
We attended an event featuring some rather special wines. The venue was a
famous, high-priced hotel ballroom. The stemware was akin to a jelly
We were pretty certain, given the lousy glassware and disorganized tasting
sheets that this tasting was more of a show than it was an actual sales event.
Another "amateur" wine-taster.
I noticed a customer had ordered a pour of three
different wines in our tasting room. We have some rather plain, standard,
clunky Libbey glasses. He left the least costly and least prestigious wine
on the counter. I poured the contents of that glass into a fancier
Spiegelau stem (without his knowledge) and asked him to taste that wine.
He was very positive in assessing the wine from its "new" glass.
Some tastings have offered customers the option of
actually KEEPING the fancy glass. One distributor had one of its wineries
actually underwrite the cost of the glasses and had the winery name and logo
emblazoned on each glass.
A recent stunner was a tasting hosted by the Dalla Terra company, a firm
specializing in good Italian wines.
They were offering some costly wines, including a $300-a-bottle Barolo.
The stemware they provided were these:
Plastic, stemless cups.
I didn't know the firm also distributes and sells these, so I asked for a real
I found it difficult to taste and really evaluate the wines from such a vessel,
so I suppose it's a testimony to the fine quality of that ten year old Barolo
that is showed well despite being in a plastic cup.
The website promoting these vessels says "Joseph
T. Perrulli and Boyd Willat originally created govino as an industry trade tool
to help professional salespeople showcase their wines whenever and wherever
proper stemware wasn't accessible."
These people were hosting a tasting in a fancy San Francisco
restaurant. The place has dozens of good quality stemware which would
nicely show off the fancy wines they were offering and it would afford tasters a
good "view" of the wines.
We were not tasting picnic wines and we were tasting indoors, not guzzling wine
by the swimming pool.
A San Francisco distributor hosted its 40th anniversary of a trade tasting,
inviting vintners from around the world to attend, pour their wines and meet potential
We were surprised, frankly, when the tasting glasses they offered were the style
you see in the photo above: a Riedel "O" Series glass.
This means you'd warm the wine in the glass, get fingerprints all over the
vessel and have a bit of difficulty in swirling the wine.
But even more important for the distributor (and I'll bet they gave this little
consideration): What would your winemakers think, having just flown 6000 miles
from Germany or France or Italy, at being obliged to pour the fruits of their
labors into, essentially, a water glass?
Why, if you know the wines show best in proper stemware (and you just hosted a
40th anniversary party, outdoors, at your Napa Valley residence where you served
wine in excellent stemware), would you not go to the effort of showing off your
wines to their best by using good wine glasses???
It's sad that in the 21st Century, after many decades of education, some
companies operate in a backwards, un-enlightened fashion!
ORGANIZE YOUR TASTING SHEET or PRICE LIST!
Most of the guests attending your tasting have only
two hands. Most of them.
One ought to be devoted to holding a wine glass.
The other ought to be for some sort of tasting sheet with pricing information.
Having this document in an easy-to-read, useful layout is most helpful in
A small box of pens or pencils for tasters to take notes is also a good
idea. This is a subtle hint to some tasters that your event is a
"wine tasting & sales" event, not a party.
One firm recently hid the price lists below maps of the
country of specialty in Europe where their wines originate.
There were ten or eleven pages of wines on the price lists, broken down into two
Part One featured wine arriving shortly and Part Two had wines arriving months
down the road. Except some of the wines in Part Two were scheduled to
arrived BEFORE some of the Part One offerings. Further, the lists were
arranged alphabetically. But the first wines on their tables were those in
the W's, so the wines were organized differently.
With about 60 or 70 bottles open, the task of tasting these and knowing their
prices was a total disaster. The young woman who represents this firm
needs some lessons in organization (not to mention sales). I have
suggested having a list of just the wines being offered for tasting with prices,
but this would have been too much "work," so it was not done.
On the other hand, two recent tastings of well more than 50 wines at each
featured tasting notes/price sheets which perfectly corresponded to the wines
being offered. This made tasting and evaluating the wines quite convenient
and efficient. Why is this such a difficult concept for some?
A tasting organized (if you want to call it that) by the Portuguese Trade
Commission had tasting notebooks with a full page devoted to each wine brand
The wines were listed on the page haphazardly, as it did not occur to the
organizers (if you want to call them that) to arrange the wines in the suggested
order of service.
At a tasting of wines from a large wine importer and its California distributor,
many of the wines listed featured two vintage dates. Apparently nobody
could actually be certain as to what wines they were going to be tasting and
what vintage might be delivered.
This is not very professional. Either leave the vintage off, so tasters
can "fill in the blank" or figure out what you actually have to taste
BE CERTAIN TO HAVE ACCURATE PRICING
Some wineries, for example, don't have a staff person devoted to the actual
sale and marketing of their products. They may not know what the pricing
structures are for the various wines, since they don't deal with the wholesale
side of the business.
It's a good idea for the company hosting the tasting to
have pricing information available for whomever is handling the chores pouring
wines at a particular table.
At a recent tasting one winery
rep had virtually no clue of their pricing. "Well, we sell this for
$18 in our tasting room." she said.
About one-third of the people pouring wine at this tasting had no idea of the
cost of the wines they were showing!
We had voiced concerns over being given only the "front line" pricing
of wines at one tasting. A big-wig with the company explained that was in
case some accounts brought their customers...the consumers would then not be privy
to the real pricing of the wines.
If it's a "trade" tasting, why would you allow consumers to attend?
HOW ARE THE WINES PRESENTED?
It works best for everyone when the tasting sheet/price list matches the
layout or "flow" of the tasting.
The most professionally-run tastings offer customers a tasting list with the
wines listed in the suggested tasting order.
One firm routinely sets up the wines in a particular order. It's sort of
an "up the ladder" system, taking tasters from the lightest driest
white wines to the bigger, oakier, more powerful whites. Then they offer
their lightest, fruitiest reds, working up to the more tannic, astringent,
powerful red wines, finishing with dessert wines.
When you have a tasting staffed by winery representatives, they prefer (of
course) to pour their set of wines exclusively.
These sorts of tastings require a bit more organization on the part of
We routinely grab a glass and tasting sheet and circle the room several times,
tasting dry sparklers first. Then we run through the assortment of white
wines before finally getting a run through the reds. When we're done with
that "flight," we return to tables featuring sweet wines.
If you have a tasting set up in winery, importer, purveyor fashion, please
decide upon organizing the line-up of tables somehow.
Alphabetical order is not a bad idea. Studies
show even about 66% of wine retailers and 50% of restaurant staffers can follow this
line of reasoning.
In addition to this method of organization, some firms
actually assign a table "number" to each table to facilitate customers
being able to find pricing information.
PLEASE INCLUDE MORE THAN JUST THE "FANTASY" (or
Some firms arrange their price lists to accommodate those customers who
only buy wine when they think they "getting something."
"Getting something" translates to "discount."
Some buyers are actually intelligent enough to figure out what a wine is
"worth." Others seem to respond only to the word
Some companies actually print a price list with the
$300 front-line price and, for some unknown reason, "forget" to note
the wine costs $150 a case if an account buys two cases. Are there really
some idiots who would pay $300 for a $150/case wine? I suppose there are!
One firm routinely prints a huge "book", spiral bound even. But
they list only their front-line, fantasy pricing! When there's a 10%, 15%
or some other discount on a 2 case or 5 case purchase of a wine, allowing your
customer the opportunity to evaluate the wine AND KNOW what they might be able
to sell it for would seem to most sensible people as a "good idea."
For some curious reason, some tasting organizers neglect to use this extra bit
of "ammunition" in their battle to sell wine.
When a customer tastes a wine and is told it's $240 a case, they will have a
more critical eye towards that wine than if they know the wine can be had for
$200 or $180 per case.
Some companies offer special pricing for orders placed
by those attending the tasting.
I don't think this is exactly legal, as they should
offer the same promotional pricing to ALL CUSTOMERS placing an order within the
specified promotional period. Whether or not they attended the tasting.
One benefit of this, though, is eliciting orders immediately as a result of the
One possible side effect, though, is that customers may purchase their favorite
wine finds ONLY once and not gain any traction or momentum with those products.
Savvy buyers also will stop buying anything from your portfolio a week or two
before your tasting, knowing there are incentives to be had at the tasting.
I would suggest something like a 5% incentive for orders placed at the tasting
and an easy attainable 2 or 3 case buy for orders placed after that to keep a
product's sales rolling.
MUSIC AT TASTINGS
I don't attend tastings for entertainment, so this is
quite unnecessary unless your wines really suck, in which case you probably want
to hire a jazz ensemble to distract tasters from their task at hand.
Some firms have hired classical musicians to play at their events. This
is, frankly, not necessary. Only the "amateurs" amongst your
crowd will be interested in this, since they're probably attending the tasting
more for a party than for serious wine scouting.
An importer of Italian wines recently held its annual
trade tasting in San Francisco. The venue was a social club's
ballroom. Someone thought playing Mexican Mariachi music was
"exotic" and so this was blaring out of the loudspeakers. Given
some of the wines they import, sadly, this distraction may have made the wines
Seriously, though: a professional trade tasting does not feature this sort of
A large distributor hired a solo musician to play keyboards at their tasting
recently. He was parked off in a corner, playing jazz and singing the
I thought this was really great, since many of the sales representatives we see
these days are also singing the blues.
It further shows that, indeed, it DOES take a lot of singing and dancing to sell
a bottle of wine.
One tasting during the 2005 "Tasting Season" was held at a
swanky golf and country club in Los Altos. Signs were posted at many
tables warning attendees to not use their cell phones. There was a three
piece group featuring a singer...totally out of place for a trade tasting, but a
nice addition to a party!
At a 2013 trade tasting in a dark, poorly-lit bar & restaurant, someone
thought having the juke box (yes, a real, vintage juke box!) playing loud, loud
pop tunes was a good idea.
It was impossible to see the wines, the kitchen crew was humming along, busily
prepping for that night's dinner service and creating somewhat aromatic foods
and then we had loud music.
I could not give the wines my full attention and wrote off the event as a total
waste of time.
HAVE THE WINES AVAILABLE AND HAVE SUFFICIENT QUANTITIES FOR TASTING
Figure on getting about 20-25 pours per bottle.
Calculate the number of tasters and be sure to have sufficient quantities
You can buy pouring "spouts" and pouring devices which restrict the
flow of the wine to extend the usage of the bottles.
A firm sent out its tasting announcements a month or
two ahead of their event. The event was at a special place, requiring they
reserve the room months in advance.
I got to the tasting, which was scheduled for 11:30 until 3:30, a bit after
1pm. They had pages from their catalogue torn out and placed on the
tables. But there we no bottles of wine for about 30% of them. This
For other wines, there were two bottles, while for other items, there was but a
Nobody was checking to see if the second bottle needed opening, since the first
had been emptied. This was poor.
Further, many of the bottles, of which there was but the one, lone sample
bottle, were empty.
After running across about the fourth or fifth "empty" I asked one of
the hosts of the event. Their excuse was they were "waiting" for
a truck to arrive. It seems a shipment of samples had only been delivered
to the area four business days ahead of the tasting and they had not been able
to get the firm to deliver them. Nor had they been able to go pick up
those bottles themselves.
I finished tasting, arriving at a series of 375ml bottles of sweet wines.
Someone drained those before I got to them. I departed. When I
returned to the shop, our sales rep from the distributorship told me they
actually HAD another half bottle of those, but since nobody was monitoring the
wines, these had not been opened until after my departure.
The whole performance was poor, needless to say.
One import company and its California distributor held a trade tasting from 2pm
until 5pm. At 3pm, some of the more pricy bottles had been totally
emptied. This is unfortunate for those of us (buyers) who came to taste
the new vintages of these costly wines. It was apparent there were many
people who were not "buyers," but stock clerks for a particular retail
Further, with 30 minutes of tasting time remaining, I asked to taste the entry
level bottle of a particular Italian producer's wine. This bottle retails
for $20. The fellow behind the table declined to pour this wine, not
wanting to open another bottle at this stage of the tasting. I picked up
the bottle and asked to taste this wine, but the fellow insisted I taste
One Napa vintner was thrilled to have poured all of her wine by the half-way
point of the tasting event.
I asked her how many bottles she'd brought...two bottles of each wine to show to
a crowd of about 150 to 200 tasters!
Next time she should bring eye droppers to offer tasters a really small
Another company allows numerous posers to attend and then doesn't bring a
sufficient quantity of wine to accommodate all of those they allow to attend.
Maybe if you're the busboy or hostess at a restaurant and simply there to learn
and explore a bit, that's okay.
If I've taken an hour, or so, from my busy day to drive to and fro, with
specific wines on my list of "possibilities," showing me an empty
bottle is not helping your cause in trying to sell me a bottle of your wine.
POURING THE WINES
It's a good idea to pour enough wine in the glass for an
attendee to be able to actually taste the wine. I have seen miserly
pourers squeeze their precious bottles so tightly, the wine all but evaporated
in the glass when I swirled it!
Those pouring the wines should be attentive to those asking for a taste.
We frequently see pourers so engrossed in a conversation, they are totally
oblivious to those standing around their table, arms extended with an empty glass
in front of them. Sometimes they're busy explaining every little detail
about their wine and its history. Other times they're engaged in idle
chatter about last night's dining experience, their tennis game or the purchase
of a new car.
PLEASE REMIND PEOPLE WHO ARE OPENING BOTTLES AND POURING
TO CHECK BOTTLES FOR "CORKED" OR FLAWED SAMPLES.
I've attended numerous tastings and
found a "corked" bottle which was about 2/3s emptied. Nobody had
said a word, but they'd poured probably 10-20 tastes, showing prospective
customers wine from a "bad bottle."
PLEASE CHECK EVERY BOTTLE!!!
I have a limited amount of time and, frequently, the
"meter is running." I'm either paying for a parking space or for
an extra staffer to cover the shop in my absence, so I'm not interested in
over-hearing the banter about their vacation in Hawaii.
Our colleague, the late Bob Gorman, attended a tasting and was working his way through a
producer's wines. The tasting was to conclude in about 30 minutes, but the
producer was more interested in making tracks back home. Instead of
leaving the bottles on the table, this vintner actually packed up a half a
dozen, or so, partially-filled bottles and dragged them home, leaving Bob with a
rather bitter taste in his mouth. And it wasn't from their tannic
BOTTLES FOR SPECIAL TASTERS
Being somewhat well-known in the area, I'm often
invited to taste something that's "under the table" since it's a
special or rare wine. While this is somewhat of an honor, I realize, it
also embarrasses those people in the vicinity, watching, who may NOT be asked to
taste this bottle.
I have also been asked by a sales rep who's hoping I
might buy their wines, if I tasted the "Acme Winery" Private Reserve
at their tasting. If I don't already know the Acme rep or the Acme rep has
no clue as to who I am, how is this likely to happen when the bottle is stashed
out of view below the table?
At a recent tasting, our sales rep asked if I'd tasted the Pinot Noir of a
particular winery. I had not seen this wine because, well, it was
"under the table." I did not return to the table to ask for a
taste (I find it uncomfortable to 'beg' for wine, for one thing). This
particular tasting was not well-attended, either, so I wonder if they poured
even a half a bottle of their precious Pinot.
What's the point?
DON'T FORGET TO HAVE PLENTY OF "SPIT
All professional wine people attending a tasting will
be looking for a spit bucket. Sometimes these things are hard to locate,
while they should be plentiful!
If you'll have a fairly active tasting and numerous people standing in front of
a table, please have a receptacle at both ends of the table. It is
cumbersome to have to "dance" so much with other tasters when everyone
is attempting to have a taste and then spit out the wines.
When VinItaly was in its early days, spitting out the
wines was nearly unheard of. Yes! In the dark days before Riedel
glasses (and other fancy makes) were commonplace, most vintners are VinItaly
viewed the event as a big party, featuring much drinking and frivolity. I
used to always pack a 12 ounce plastic tumbler which I carried, concealed, in my
jacket pocket. At each stand, I would place this on the table and I heard
numerous comments as a result. But in those days, many tasters, especially
the locals from Italy, rarely spit out the wines they were tasting. In
fact, they weren't really "tasting" as much as "drinking."
If you're conducting an event, does your company want to be on the hook for
Some firms, in addition to having "community" spit buckets placed
around the room, also have been offering small plastic "beer cups" so
tasters can have their own, person, individual spit bucket. Of course,
only a few people attending a tasting have three or four hands to carry around a
wine glass, pencil, tasting sheet and spit cup.
I attended a tasting of biodynamically-farmed wines in Europe. The tasting
was well-attended but the organizers didn't have a crew regularly patrolling the
tasting tables. The spit buckets were full!
In an attempt to help, I took the liberty of taking a Champagne bucket off one
table (set there to hold ice and a few bottles of wine) which was empty and
dumped several smaller spit buckets into it. The nearby French vigneronnes
looked at me in a horrified manner, finding this to be totally offensive and not
only rude, but crude.
I carried off the now-filled Champagne bucket to the "kitchen" and
dumped it out, rinsing it thoroughly and returning it, cleaned, back to its
original location at the table of a famous winery from Alsace.
The woman behind the table quickly grabbed the bucket and placed several bottles
in it (ice was nowhere to be found, the ricetta not being common in Italia) so
as to preclude any other ill-mannered person from using the bucket as a spit
FOOD and/or PALATE CLEANSERS
I don't attend tastings for food. I see many
people who do, however.
A professional taster knows (as do, I suppose the unprofessional ones) that you
"buy on apples and sell on cheese." This means, for example,
simple palate cleansers such as tart, crisp apple slices allow the palate to be
refreshed and ready for the next wine. A piece of cheese can enhance the
flavor of a wine by "clouding" the palate somewhat.
Some items are even "better" for not allowing the taster the clarity
of being able to taste the wine without other influences. One of the large
liquor distributors, intent more upon hosting a "party," often has had
a chef sauting garlic and onions or deep-frying seafood or mushrooms.
This makes it nearly impossible for tasters to have a clear and accurate
"look" at the wines.
Another firm hired a fishmonger to come and display fresh oysters, shucking them
to order. Of course, the wineries whose wines were being poured in the
vicinity of this lovely presentation all had wines with a bouquet redolent of
Malpeques or Kumamotos!
At the very least, do offer some sort of French bread.
We will avail ourselves of a palate-cleansing piece of bread during a
tasting. But we won't be seen "grazing" at the buffet table
until after we've tasted all the wines we needed to taste!
I was thinking that any sorts of "food" aside
from palate-cleansing bread, ought not even be brought out to the table until an
hour into the tasting event. This would force those who come merely to eat
to actually have to pay a little bit of attention to the wines before having
some sort of "reward" of food. A colleague reported that a woman
stationed herself by the food table at a recent event, collect four crab cakes
and stood in the corner, "chowing down." She then returned to
the table to have another go at these. The owner of the distribution firm
saw this and admonished this amateur that she'd had enough already!! How embarrassing!
One Italian specialist often has wonderful slices of savory salami and
prosciutto. These are a terrific snack or spuntino, but AFTER we've
I am always amused when I see people asking for a pour of some wine, glass in
one hand and a small place loaded with food in the other. Those are,
typically, the amateurs.
The Napa Valley Vintners Association held its annual San Francisco tasting at
the Fairmont Hotel in 2004. In a room filled with dozens of shockingly expensive
young Cabernets, the palate cleansers offered were copious quantities of sliced
pineapple, watermelon and unripe cantaloupe!
FLORAL DISPLAYS ARE NOT NECESSARY!
In fact, they can be totally inappropriate for a
professional wine tasting.
At the annual trade tasting of one large distributor,
some brilliant sales manager brought a wonderful arrangement of flowers and
placed it on one end of her table. Never mind that some people might be
allergic to these, but the fragrance was so overwhelming, it was impossible to
actually have a sniff of her wines.
CAN THE WINES BE SERVED AT A TEMPERATURE WHICH SHOWS
THEM OFF WELL?
Many important trade tastings are held in the San
Francisco Bay Area during September and October. We often experience
a number of warm summer days during this period. You'll need to plan for
this, no matter what time of year your tasting event is scheduled. High
alcohol red wines served at 80+ degrees Fahrenheit simply are not going to show
well to any taster, save those who like their Cabernets or Zinfandels to
Offering your associates the opportunity to cool off their red wines, as well as
chilling down their whites and sparklers is most sensible. This is
especially the case if you're hoping to actually "sell" or take orders
At a June tasting event in Austria, a small crew of tasting coordinators spent
their day replenishing the plastic "rapid ice" inserts in these sort
This allowed every winery (and there were 500 of them in attendance!) to show
their wines at proper "cellar temperature."
But even providing your partners-in-wine with a large bucket or tray to cool off
their bottles is a good idea.
FOLLOW UP AND ASK FOR AN ORDER !!!
As I write this, I had attended a trade tasting
precisely two (three, four, five) weeks ago. Though the firm hosting that tasting has a sales
representative in the territory, we have not heard a word from them since the
tasting. We have, in the meantime, attended a couple of other tastings of
similar wines and have ordered wines from those firms which we found to be just
as exciting and price-worthy.
If your sales reps are too busy to take an order or do something as simple as
follow up with a potential customer, then there's a problem!
I was amused to notice a certain sales rep scheduled a
vacation a few days following the company's annual trade tasting. The rep
indicated they would stop by immediately after the event (and I was ready to
order a couple of things). But, apparently the vacation plans got in the
way and more than 12 days following the tasting, no follow-up work has been done
to sell some wine (they have a Cabernet for $480 a case which we need and one
for $560 that is also on my list of things to order).
We attended a trade tasting where the importer was asking for
"pre-arrival" orders. Special pricing was being offered for
customers placing an order for wines to arrive in a few months. While we'd
found a few wines of interest, the sales rep did not follow up for several
weeks. In the meantime, a rival importer, featuring a similarly good
portfolio, had its tasting. I found a stellar example of a wine from the
second company and they had the wine "in stock" and ready for
immediate shipment. We purchased 6 cases of their wine BEFORE the first
company's rep followed up with a visit.
I attended a fantastic showing of Australian wines. Seriously good
wines. Small production wines which are a far cry from the mass-marketed
crap Australia is famous for...a week after the event, nobody had asked if I
wanted to order any wines.
Ten days after the event, the organizer came in, more to say hello and because
he was having dinner in our neighborhood with a business colleague.
I asked if he was ever going to follow up with taking an order.
He was surprised, since he's sent our designated sales rep a note (twice!)
asking him to follow up and take an order.
Some winery marketing people keep a notepad nearby to
jot down information as to who has tasted their wines and with whom they might
follow-up. This is probably a good idea. If some buyer is thrilled
with your wines, you might want to be sure they have been contacted afterwards
to see about placing an order.
HOW TO TASTE WINE AT A TRADE TASTING
Pick up a glass and a tasting sheet or list
of the wines being offered for evaluation.
You might with to have a quick walk around the tasting room to scope out what's
there, who's there and what wines are of particular interest.
I have noticed some tasters bring their own stemware to trade tastings in an
effort to better taste the wines. This is because at so many places the
quality of the glasses is so poor.
We typically begin with sparkling wines, if there are any. Then we circle
the room(s) and taste white wines. Following this, we may go on the
"red run," tasting red wines next. If there are any sweet wines,
we usually taste those last.
Hold your glass near the bottle of wine you wish to have poured for you.
You can ask for the wine by name, though I notice many tasters simply grunt or
mispronounce the names of various wines. If you can, at the very least,
ask for it by name, the person pouring the wine (whether it's the winemaker,
winery marketing manager, sales rep or owner of the winery) will hold you in
higher regard. Being polite and professional is a good idea.
"May I please taste your Knucklehead Vineyard Pinot Noir, please?"
is a proper way to solicit a taste, rather than "Gimme some of that
one" or "Pour me some of this shit."
Be sure to hold your glass "still." Don't shake it or move it
until after the wine has been poured and the bottle set back in place.
Try to keep your glass clean. As wine is poured, invariably there's some
spilled down the side, so eventually you may develop "wine taster's
Sometimes it's a good idea to give the glass a small rinse with a wine you're
going to taste. This is particularly true if you're tasting a lighter wine
after a big, heavy bruiser.
Be sure to use the spit buckets! There's no way you can
professionally taste and evaluate wines if you're on your way to being drunk.
Taking notes is not a bad idea. I try to write down a few key words about
the wines I especially think are candidates for the shop. I also may make
some notation for hideous wines, too.
If you have a huge amount of wines to taste, don't bother putting wines in your
mouth which smell bad. Why bother?
You may wish to cleanser your palate periodically. Some tastings do offer
mineral water. French bread that's plain and bland is a good palate
Don't be a knucklehead.
A knucklehead saunters up to the table and demands a big pour of some expensive
or rare bottle.
More professional (not to mention polite) is to taste throughout the line-up of
I am amused to see a taster come up to a table and demand a more-than-normal
pour of some deluxe Champagne, for example. But I can tell you, the sales
rep who is pouring that wine is not thrilled by those sorts of
Remember, the idea of this sort of event is to have customers become acquainted
with new products. It is not a party or wine festival, though some people
attend for "eating and drinking" purposes.
A fellow approached a vintner at a tasting and asked
for a pour of "your Cabernet Sauvignon." The winery proprietor
politely explained "We make Chardonnay and we grow Pinot Noir and those are
the only wines we make."
The taster stepped back a moment, surveyed the bottles and lunged forward saying
"Well, then, give me a taste of your Sangiovese!"
That qualified the fellow as a knucklehead.
A sales rep for a big importer of Italian wines told us
of her experience at a trade event: people paid no attention to the catalogue or
roster of wines being poured. These knuckleheads would come up to her
table, totally oblivious to what wines were being shown and they'd ask
"Give me a glass of your Chardonnay!" as though they were at a party
or a bar.
Additional Notes & Comments:
We recently attended an event held at a good, if trendy, San Francisco
restaurant. The portfolio of Italian wines being poured (by the
winemakers, no less) was being shown at a restaurant which features southern
Italian wines. The restaurant has no Barolo or Chianti on its wine list,
for example, nor do they want these wines. Yet someone scheduled the
tasting at a place which does not even consider these wines for its wine
list. I could see the look of disappointment on the face of one winemaker
when he discovered this.
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