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Wine tasting from the other side of the counter

In-store wine tastings often were the most fun part of my job as a wine salesman. Sure, I knew about better things to do on Friday evenings or Saturday afternoons, than standing in somebody’s wine shop for few hours (for free) smiling, and trying to introduce new wines to their customers.

But that’s how I met so many people that were into wines the same way I was. My wine club got first created from the fellow wine lovers, I met during my wine tastings. Some of those relationships became great friendships and I am very grateful for that. Other times my experience was rather painful. That’s when I met some people who could destroy any fun, anytime. I am sure we all know some…

If you are like me, when meeting somebody in services, I always try to imagine being in their shoes. I am imagining how the other side sees and perceives me, a customer. What makes their job exciting and what not. For that same reason I put together my own thoughts that sometimes ran through my head, while tasting wines with complete strangers. Hope you find it more entertaining than offensive. If so, I apologize in advance. It wasn’t my intention.

Red wine tasting
Red wine tasting

Why are people, walking to the wine shops, and obviously shopping for wine, often so resistant to taste new-coming wines? Maybe they worry about the coming sale pressure afterwards, or perhaps they are concerned that they would have to carry on some intellectual debate about the complexity, aroma and lock of acidity…? But that’s not the case at all!

Maybe some just don’t want to be bothered, because all they came to do is to get their “usual” and be on their way home. Perhaps they are in hurry. I understand. They may not even be in the mood for wine tasting. Although that’s harder to understand. Do some people perceive it as annoying as those sales reps, grabbing your hand in the mall, forcing you to try some of their superb product? I hate that! But I still believe that being offered to taste some wine, while I am shopping for wine, is quite different.

Here are some of the most usual excuses I heard from people, invited to taste wine in the stores (while shopping for wine):

* I can’t taste wine, I am driving….
(you’re not getting 6oz of wine to taste, I promise, and  there is such a thing as a spitting bucket)

* I got a headache

* I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference (can’t really argue there)

* I only drink beer (yet buying wine, can’t really argue there either)

* I only drink White Zinfandel (OK, got it. There is no point then.)

* Thanks, but not today
(but that’s the ONLY day I am here with this wine open, you know?)

* I don’t like Californian (Italian, Spanish, French… whatever works here) wine!
(Really?? Did you try them all??)

That’s what I don’t get. Wine is such a personal thing. Who better than you can decide what kind of wine you like? As passionate wine drinker as I am, I never miss the opportunity to taste wine, if offered. It’s all about you, your chance to try something new. It’s your chance to figure out if you like it or not., without buying it first. Buying a new wine based on the label alone is quite risky. And no, you DON’T have to buy what you just tasted. Not every salesperson is the same, I can promise you that I am never trying to talk a hole into your head while you are tasting.

Wine tasting
Wine tasting

So why not taste everywhere you can, especially when it’s in the wine store, and for free? The worse thing that can happen is that you will remember never to buy that wine! Unless you just want to stick to few of your favorites – nothing wrong with that.

Just one other thing worth mentioning. If you taste wine in the store, and don’t care for it, there is no need to volunteer giving your honest opinion out loud. Simple ‘thank you’ is more than enough. I got it if you just walked away, and you’re not hurting my feelings.  It’s not your style, it doesn’t work for you – that’s fine, at least you tried. Why would I be offended?

But please, please, don’t make a fool out of yourself by trashing it down and spoiling it for everybody else! It may be just you, who doesn’t appreciate a perfectly good wine. Everybody’s taste is different, and if you don’t like it, it doesn’t automatically mean the wine is bad.  I remember one “classy lady”, who took a sip of great Loire white wine and made a ‘throw up’ gesture. Seeing her later, walking out of that wine store with “her favorite wine”, I was tempted to return the favor. Being professional, I hesitated and smiled kindly instead. I have noticed though, how her unnecessary remark influenced the other people around, tasting and enjoying that same wine. Suddenly, they were taken back by her gesture, and immediately looked at their glass in disbelief, questioning their own taste.

Wine store
Wine store

So, next time you go to your favorite wine shop and there is a salesman pouring new wines, don’t just pass because they look cheap (the wines, I mean). Give it a try. Seriously. It’s fun! Who would like to stand there, wasting a perfect afternoon, staring at opened wines and watching people walking by? You never know, you may just discover your next fantastic wine to surprise your friends with.

Here are some “insider’s” rules for wine tasting to be cool:

10 Golden rules of wine tasting

* Trust the person who conducts the tasting about the sequence of the wine. They are lined up in certain sequence for a reason

* Be respectful of wine and others

* Even if you usually put ice cube into your wine, don’t do it this time – your white will be chilled enough

* Take your time to enjoy it, smell it, taste it, ask questions, if you like – we love to talk about wine and enjoy that you are interested

* The spitting is perfectly acceptable, professionals do it all the time, especially at large wine tastings

* If you taste more wines in the row, have a sip of water or cracker in between – to clean your palate

* It’s all about tasting, not lecturing the crowd around you  – or the person who hosts the tasting, about your excessive wine knowledge

* It’s all about wine (not the complimentary cheese 🙂

* Don’t touch the tasting bottle and resist the temptation to pour yourself (in some instances it could even get the person, holding the license, in trouble)

* One stem (or plastic cup) is enough to taste multiple wines. (Really, I have seen many people that threw my plastic cup away after each wine, and asked for another to taste the next wine).

Wine tastings are fun, so enjoy it and drink up! In the words of a classic: You don’t have to understand the opera in order to like it!

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Another star is born

Another star is born
Do you know that feeling when you are overwhelmed with goodies and feel like it can’t get any better than that – and it does? Yeah, that’s how I felt when coming to Jorge Ordóñez portfolio wine tasting in Boston. I knew I will be there for a real treat.So where to start? If you are familiar with Spanish wines that Jorge represents, you would probably understand my “pain”. Too much of great stuff and not enough time to taste it all. Feels like all star game for wine lovers, if referring to just a few – Muga, Alto Moncayo, San Vicente, El Puntido, Sierra Cantabria, El Nido and Clio, Can Blau, Volver, Finca Allende and so many more. It can hardly get any better than that. But it always does.

I walked my way through wines I already knew and admired, just to check if they are still as good as previous vintages. (like I had any doubts). My first stop was at Bodegas Muga table. (see my reviews of Muga wines) Excited to see Juan Muga again, we hugged and shared a glass of Blanco together. Lovely nose, crispy and clean, as always. Than I asked him to pour me some of 2001 Muga Prado Enea, just to tease my spoiled palate and get it ready for more fun. With a promise to come back for “Big guys”, I moved on to greet Loren Gil and his cousin Angel Gil from Jumilla..


The Gil family had without a doubt the longest table, full of wines. Some wines I was familiar with, some were new projects that Gil brothers started with Jorge Ordóñez in different parts of Spain.What to do, what to do? I knew if I tasted them all, I would be wasted shortly after – even though I tried to spit as a professional. But how dare you spit some of these wines? It would be a sin! So I refreshed my memory with Atteca from Calatayud just to warm up, and skipped many others I was already familiar with.

I couldn’t skip the Clio and El Nido though (who in the right mind would?) I could just sniff that wine for hours. Angel Gil seemed a little nervous – he was missing a sample of new wine that he was anxious to show me.

The tasting room was already filled with many people so I moved closer to Gil’s table and sat down on the sofa to be alone with my wine. As I was meditating with the deep ruby jewel from Jumilla with a silver bird on the label, somebody brought in missing Triton.
Angel’s face lighted up and as soon as he opened it, he was rushing to pour some for me. I couldn’t wait. It was a first vintage of a brand new project- partnership of Jorge, Enrique Busto and Gil family. Angel seemed so excited about it. Their new vineyards are located in the small village of Villanueva de Campean, known as Tierra del Vino – full name is D.O. Vino de la Tierra de Castilla-Leon (which should have been part of D.O.TORO, but didn’t quite make it).

One glance at the gorgeous label (another one, I don’t know how Jorge does it), and I immediately thought:”Oh oh, this is going to be an expensive baby”. Dark ruby, seemed very rich in the glass. I swirled it a little and strong aroma of dark fruit and cocoa was just opening up. “Old vines?” I asked Angel and he nodded. When I took a first sip, I was surprised by an unexpected spice on my tong.

Triton was huge, yet greatly balanced and totally impressive. Wow. Another Spanish star is born! Why would be anyone surprised? TORO has a history of great wines like Numanthia and Termanthia, and with the team of passionate wine perfectionists involved in this wine, the result couldn’t be any different.

Considering that the bottle was just opened and I had it shortly after tasting Clio, my palate was just overwhelmed with joy. Imagine what it’s going to do after two hours of aerating! Now I understood why Angel was so proud of it. If I didn’t know it was Spanish, I would say it reminded me of some spectacular Amarone.

Mouthful of rich, ripe fruit with hints of espresso, spicy black pepper and maybe even little nutmeg or clove. And, I am not a fan of big wines to begin with. This one though, I’ll gladly make an exception. I wouldn’t even bother to pair it with food. Maybe, a little tiny steak tips. Or not.

The biggest surprise came when I asked about the price. I almost forgot to close my mouth. Based on the quality and packaging, I expected higher $40ish…. This wine sells for under $ 20.00 a bottle. Well in that case, this is a super crazy steel! I can’t predict if it’s going to age well, but I would definitely see another few years in the bottle. I’ll be anxious to see how this wine progresses. That’s what you get when you think it can’t get any better….

If you share my passion, please come back to read more about this wine tasting – to be continued…