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Glass Acts

Christopher Gardner

Barrels of Fun: Future wines undergo the magic of fermentation in a Gilroy winery.

Guerrilla wine tasting--the short course

By Christina Waters

WINE tasting is one of those activities that used to liquidate the leisure time of snobs, landed gentry and people with French accents back in the days before MTV and the Web.

Even today, right here in a landscape riddled with winemaking operations, the word "tasting room" strikes terror into the hearts of ordinary 30somethings.

We must face that fear, examine it and defuse its power to render us stupid.

Tasting rooms are simply show-and-tell counters where potential wine lovers, connoisseurs of the future, if you will, can sample, learn and expand their palates before they buy. When you do taste something you like, remember it--better yet, buy a few bottles right then and there--and you'll be able to approach the aisles of Beverages & More without resorting to Prozac.

  • Tasting rooms are the sales arm of the winery. Therefore the people who staff them are happy to explain stuff--it's their job. So don't be intimidated by all the bottles and names. Remember, those guys who do ratings for the Wine Spectator had to start somewhere.

  • Tasting room people love to talk about wine. Especially to newcomers. They think of themselves as priests of the grape. You are the new initiates, coming to take part in an important rite of passage. Besides, if they do their job well, you will become the acolytes (i.e. consumers) of tomorrow.

  • Not long ago, all tasting rooms were happy to pour samples on a complimentary basis. Today, you can expect to be charged a nominal fee. Since you will have access to quite a few open bottles, it's still a good deal. An hour's tasting also gives a delicious overview of a particular winery's style and strength.

  • Ask questions. Ask for guidance on how to pronounce varietal names. If you're unsure about what constitutes the difference between red and white wines (other than the color, of course), don't hesitate to ask. Winery representatives love to show off their knowledge of such terms as skin contact, malolactic fermentation and racking. Let them show off.

  • In a professional tasting situation, a half dozen or so varieties of wine will be available for tasting--three whites, three reds are usual. These will be offered, each in its own separate glass, starting with the whites, the driest ones first. The bigger and fruitier the wine, the more impact on the taste buds. Therefore it's best to begin with the light ones, and journey into the dark ones (with apologies to Tennessee Williams).

  • Now for the most important tip: Do not attempt to actually swallow all of the wine poured for you. You will lose the ability (among other things) to tell the wines apart.

  • Use the dump buckets provided to spit out the wine you've tasted. This part is a bit tricky, since we were brought up to not spit in public. And yes it feels awkward at first. But once you realize that you can work through a dozen wines and still keep a clear head, you'll be a true believer.

Basic Tasting

  • Swirl: Once the wine is poured, gently move your wineglass in a circular fashion so that the wine swirls around. Mixing the wine with air in this way helps to release the full fragrance, called "nose."

  • Sniff: Tons of important information about taste is revealed through the nose, so once your wine has "opened" through swirling, stick your nose deep into that glass and inhale the gorgeous aromas.

  • Sip: Now you're ready to actually take a small sip of wine. Swish it around in your mouth--don't be afraid to make gurgling sounds. Chew it a bit to mix more air with the liquid. Check out where the flavors are occurring in your mouth. Try to identify the features of that flavor--fruit (cherries, plums, citrus), maybe spice, even hints of olive, leather and tobacco. Let your imagination work. And then, spit. You can learn all you need about the distinctive features of a specific wine without swallowing. And you'll stay a lot fresher for the next wine.

You will not like every single wine you sample. You will like some of them. A lot. Ideally, you'll meet some new varietal you never expected. By learning more about wines, you've expanded your own enjoyment, tasting skill and pleasure in pairing foods with their natural partner.

Local Tasting Rooms

David Bruce Winery
Tastings: noon­5pm daily. 21439 Bear Creek Rd, Los Gatos (408/354-4214).

Byington Winery
Winemaker: Alan Phillips. Tours by appointment. Tastings: 11am­5pm daily. 28150 Bear Creek Rd, Los Gatos (408/354-1111).

Cooper-Garrod Vineyards
Winemaker: George Cooper. Tastings: 11am­4:30pm Sa­Su. 22600 Mt. Eden Rd, Saratoga (408/741-8094).

Fortino Winery
Winemaker: Gino Fortino. Tours year-round. Tastings: 10am­ 5pm daily. 4525 Hecker Pass Hwy, Gilroy (408/842-3305).

Emilio Guglielmo Winery
Winemaker: George Guglielmo Jr. Tours by appointment. Tastings: 9am­5pm M­F, 10am­5pm Sa­Su. 1480 E. Main Ave, Morgan Hill (408/779-2145).

Hecker Pass Winery
Winemaker: Mario Fortino. Tastings: 9am­6pm daily. 4605 Hecker Pass Hwy, Gilroy (408/842-8755).

Kirigin Cellars
Winemaker: Nikola Kirigin. Tours by appointment. Tastings: 10am­5pm daily. 11550 Watsonville Rd, Gilroy (408/847-8827).

Thomas Kruse Winery
Tastings: noon­ 5pm daily. 4390 Hecker Pass Hwy, Gilroy (408/842-7016).

J. Lohr Winery
Winemaker: Jeff Meier. Tours: 11am and 2pm Sa­Su. Tastings: 10am­5pm daily. 1000 Lenzen Ave, San Jose (408/288-5057).

Mirassou Champagne Cellars
Winemaker: Sean Lin. Tours: 1 and 3pm W­Su. Tastings: noon­5pm W­Su. 300 College Ave, Los Gatos (408/395-3790).

Mirassou Winery
Winemaker: Tom Stutz. Tours: Call for times. Tastings: noon-5pm M­Sa; noon­4pm Su. 3000 Aborn Rd, San Jose (408/274-4000).

Rapazzini Winery
Winemaker: Jon Rapazzini. Tastings: 9am­6pm daily. 4350 Monterey Rd, Gilroy (408/842-5649).

Ridge Vineyards
Winemaker: Paul Draper. Tastings: 11am­3pm Sa­Su. 17100 Monte Bello Rd, Cupertino (408/867-3233).

Sarah's Vineyard
Winemaker: Marilyn Clark. Tours by appointment. Tastings: noon­4pm Sa. 4005 Hecker Pass Hwy, Gilroy (408/842-4278).

Solis Winery
Winemaker: David Vanni. Tours by appointment. Tastings: 11am-5pm W­Su. 3920 Hecker Pass Hwy, Gilroy (408/847-6306).

Sunrise Winery
Tastings: 11am­3pm F­Su. 13100 Montebello Rd, Cupertino (408/741-1310).

Sycamore Creek Vineyard
Winemaker: Jeff Rundquist. Tastings: 11:30am­5pm Sa-Su. 12775 Uvas Rd, Morgan Hill (408/779-4738).

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From the June 12-18, 1997 issue of Metro.

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