RAISE A GLASS
Making most of many wine tastings around town as easy as 1-2-3
By Kim Karalovich
By Kim Karalovich
Swirl, sniff and sip. Wine-tasting opportunities have boomed in Hawai'i the last three to five years as people have become more enthusiastic and educated about wine. We are now able to find countless new wine favorites by attending in-store tastings, wine dinners, wine bars and fundraising wine events throughout the year.
The challenge is not only remembering which wines we liked best but also being able to evaluate as many wines as possible without getting palate fatigue. This is what happens when your taste buds are no longer able to discern one flavor from the next.
To get the most from a wine-tasting, you only have to bring three things and remember three things. Bring a notebook (small enough to carry easily), a retractable pen (caps are bothersome) and a napkin. Three things to remember: Do not brush your teeth at least hour before tasting. Do not chew gum before or during a wine-tasting. And, finally, do not swallow, spit! (Now you know what the napkin is for.)
Toothpaste really affects our taste buds. Try drinking a glass of orange juice just after brushing your teeth — yuck!
Chewing gum has a similar effect. Everything will adopt the flavor of the gum you are chewing, making the wine taste either bitter or alcoholic.
The notebook is important because it is very difficult to remember all the details and the complete names of your favorite wines. With tens of thousands of wines available in Hawai'i and more becoming available every day, long gone are the days when you could go into a wine store and ask for a wine by half its name or a description of its label. The notebook will help jog your memory. It also is a good idea to give the wines you taste a rating — say, between 1 and 5. If you can identify any flavors or aromas, write those down, too, and keep the notebook around to add and refer to.
It is a good idea to spit during at least the first part of the evening so you will be able to enjoy more wines and perhaps even remember some the next day without referring to your notebook. Some wine professionals who make a habit of spitting rather than sipping can taste well over 100 wines and still be able to discern them.
Alcohol can dull our taste perception long before we feel intoxicated. Samples are usually about 1 to 2 ounces, so if you are swallowing after five of them, you already may have consumed one to two normal-sized servings of wine. After drinking that much wine, your palate already may be impaired. To me, it's a waste to be able to taste only five wines when there are so many more to explore.
There seems to be a lot of trepidation about spitting wine. Some think it is a waste of good wine while others are embarrassed to spit in public. (I can definitely relate to the latter feeling; I, too, was embarrassed at first.) If it is embarrassment that keeps you swallowing, then use your notebook to cover your mouth while you bend over the spit bucket. Remember to tighten your lips to form a small hole and then spit slowly into the bucket to avoid splashing. Splashing is uncool, though not uncommon.
Wine dinners, on the other hand, offer a different ambiance and have a different objective. Spitting is not recommended at wine dinners. Here, the idea is to enjoy the combination of the food and the wine. If possible, taste the wines while your palate is still fresh, before eating. You might even jot down some notes at this point. Then try the food with the wine to see if either is enhanced. If both are enhanced, you just might want to jot down that perfect pairing.
In short, you will get the most out of wine-tasting events if you take a few notes and maintain a fresh palate for as long as possible — either by spitting or by tasting the wine judiciously before you start eating. With these tools, you will remember more of your favorites and be better equipped to shop for your new discoveries.
Exploring the world of wine is a journey, not a destination. Cheers!
Kim Karalovich is a wine buyer and consultant at The Wine Stop in Honolulu, www.thewinestophawaii.com. Raise a Glass, written by a rotating group of beverage professionals, appears here every other Wednesday.