In our experience, the best way to find the wines you like is to compare one wine with another or, better, with a few others. And the most convenient place and time to do that is at a wine tasting, an event held to showcase a number of wines.
A wine tasting can be as uncomplicated as a local retail shop opening a few bottles for sampling during weekend hours. Sometimes there's a theme to the selection; sometimes it's just a chance for merchants or importers to display their wares.
It works by a single charge per person and the individuals can have a go at dozens of wines, often paired with food at a sit-down meal or buffet. Having something to eat at a tasting is a good idea for reasons beyond feeding; food in the tummy is a smart setup when drinking alcohol.
An ancillary benefit of a large, well-attended wine tasting is the chance to learn from your fellow tasters or others in attendance such as the winemaker of a set of wines who's there to pour them for you. If you are new to wine, this is especially beneficial because you can taste wine in the company of those more experienced than you. It's a fun way for knowledge to rub off.
Here are some suggestions on protocol and how to behave at wine tastings…
How best to behave
• Never smoke, even if allowed. Aromas interfere. Even the odor of clothing after a smoker has had at it outside can bother when the smoker returns.
• For the same reason, eschew wearing strong perfume, cologne, after-shave lotion, hair spray or deodorant. You may be used to your own scent and not notice it, others may detect it.
• Hog neither the wines nor the table. Too many tasters plop themselves along the tables' edges, where the wine bottles to be sampled are commonly arrayed, and stay there while they work their way down the line of wines. Slowly. Sample a couple of each table's wines and move on (and return), or, if you do want to try all the wines, stand to the side while doing so, leaving room for others.
• Don't expect to receive even a partially full glass of wine. The idea of a wine tasting is to try as many wines as you wish, six or seven, say, or a couple of dozen. The choice is yours, of course, but for reasons of marginal sobriety and in order to get as many samples to as many tasters, you'll receive your fair share of a small ounce or less of wine.
How to taste
• New tasters are always surprised to see seasoned tasters spitting out their samples of wine. Spitting into a spit bucket or spittoon is totally acceptable, again for the purpose of remaining compos mentis while you taste a number of wines. It's also safer, especially if you're driving.
• Clear the palate with a sip of water (and spit that, if you like) before going from one sample to the next.
• Often, a tasting sheet or booklet comes with the tasting in order to keep notes or observations — and e-mail addresses, Twitter handles or Facebook names.
• You should not feel obliged to taste all the wines (in some instances that would be either impossible or foolhardy). Skip whichever wines you wish, choosing six or seven for a start that you might be interested in. Ask questions, learn the wines, move on to another set.
• Some folk find it easier and wiser on the tongue to escalate the intensity of the wines by tasting white and sparkling wines first, then the reds, finally the sweeter wines.
• The best way to taste any wine is to apply four of your five senses: Look at its color and depth of hue; sniff its aromas; taste its flavors; and finally feel its texture.
And then, spit it out.