I’ve been a bit of a cork dork for some 30+ years, tasting wine at vineyards and wineries from Napa to Temecula in California, Cottonwood and Wilcox, Arizona (who knew!), Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland, and pretty much anywhere in between (even in Oklahoma!). We’ve tasted dozens of bottles from boutique wineries from France, Austria and Italy, to the tip of South Africa with our international wine consultant, Liza. But it took a trip to Italy before I learned HOW to taste wine properly.
Our first evening at Tenuta Torciano Winery in Tuscany, we were escorted into a small room surrounded by barrels and were seated at the last of three tables. Before each of us were eight wine glasses and an appropriate tray of antipasti. Our server, Lucca, poured us a glass of Vernaccia, the winery’s signature white. Making no assumptions about our wine tasting experience, he told us nicely but firmly to grip the glass with two fingers on the lower stem and two underneath the base. He showed us how to properly swirl the wine to bring out the aromas in wine. He showed us how to fully immerse our noses into the glass, asking us not to simply sniff the wine, but to breathe in the full flavor of the wine. The pear and banana aromas were marvelous. He then asked – nay, directed – us to take a small sip, then swish the wine through our mouths before taking in some air through pursed lips. THIS was how wine was to be tasted, and I have to say that even after three decades, I learned that I had been doing it all wrong!
Lucca then directed us to taste all the wines poured, progressing from the Vernaccia to two different Chiantis, a Brunello di Montalcino, and three Super Tuscans, while sampling from the meat and cheese plate with bruschetta, a farmer’s stew called ribboleta, lasagna, and ultimately pork and potatoes. We tasted each food with each of 11 (eleven!) wines. The added three were a “bonus” we tasted that night. We made our own, personal choice as to the best pairings, gently guided by Lucca throughout the evening.
We were ultimately the last customers of the night, gathering our things as the staff were cleaning for the next day’s guests. We were fully sated and slightly toasted, joyfully reveling in the taste sensations we had experienced that night. I was truly grateful I had let go of my tasting prejudices and let Lucca guide our experience.
There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Don’t let previous experience get in the way of trying something new!
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