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[whitespace] The Wine Library
Photograph by Erika Pino

Swirl, Sniff, Sip: The Wine Library gives newbies a chance to check out the merchandise.

Fear and Tasting

Wine-tasting rooms don't have to be scary places--with Metro's expert help, you too can be sipping and spitting

By Christina Waters

UNLIKE SEX (one hopes), wine tasting is an acquired skill. Do you spit? Do you swallow? Do you use the word "earthy"? These things are mysteries to the wine virgin, but they're mysteries easily overcome.

It helps to think of tasting rooms as mini trade shows, where potential wine lovers can sample, learn and expand their palates before they buy. Tasting rooms can arm you against throwing away your $20 on attractively packaged swill. When you do taste something you like, remember it--better yet, buy a few bottles right then and there--and you'll soon be cruising the aisles of Beverages & More without having to resort to Xanax.

Tasting Rooms Are Our Friends

  • Tasting rooms are the business end of the wine industry. Therefore the people who staff them are happy to explain stuff to you--it's their job. So don't be intimidated by all the bottles and names. Remember, those guys from 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 true believers, i.e., the consumers of tomorrow.

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

  • Ask questions. This needs repeating: Ask questions. If you cannot pronounce the name on the label, ask for guidance. 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. Wine reps love to show off their knowledge of such terms as "skin contact" (no, it's not what you think), "malolactic fermentation" and "racking." Let them show off. You'll learn a lot.

  • Here is the most important tip: Do not attempt to actually swallow all the wine you taste. If you do, you will become sloshed and lose the ability to tell the wines apart (among other things).

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

    The Moves

  • 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, or "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 specifics 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 to about the distinctive features of a specific wine without swallowing. And you'll stay a lot fresher for the next wine discovery.

  • Repeat the experience on as many occasions as possible. A great place to visit is Campbell's Wine Library, stocked with a treasury of fine vintages available for tasting.

    The Wine Library
    Address: 379 E. Campbell Ave., San Jose
    Phone: 408.379.2111
    Hours: Tue-Wed noon-8pm; Thu-Fri noon-9pm; Sat 11am-9pm; Sun 9am-4pm; closed Mon

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  • From the July 18-24, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

    Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

    For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.