Wine Tasing Breakdown with Briana Berg

Whether you are a fledgling to the wine world, a casual wine lover, or a full blown cork dork, at some point you have (or will) stumble upon a wine tasting. It may be informal, formal, or completely spontaneous, but either way, it’s something to savor.

If you’re new to wine, you may feel a sight twinge of panic coming on. Have no fear. Wine tastings, by their general definition, are meant to give wine enthusiasts, of all levels, a sample of wines to try. The tasting may focus on a specific type of wine or feature a particular brand. Regardless, the point of a wine tasting is to simply help you explore the vast world of wine, one sip at a time.

Recently, I attended a tasting class at Bin 604 in downtown Baltimore. This premier Harbor East wine shop features everything form bargain wines to collectibles and everything in between. On a breezy Thursday evening, I entered the cozy confines of the wine shop to experience Malbec Mania.

With more formal tastings, you may need to sign up ahead of time, and there may be a fee involved. My tasting only cost $19. This included eight wines, a small palate cleanser – like cheese - and the dedicated instructor who flawlessly talked us through the wines. The cost of a tasting will depend on the amount of wines and the quality of wines you taste.

Looking for something a little less structured? Most wine shops or liquor stores feature wine tastings a few times a week. These free tastings focus on one or two wines and may be poured by the winemaker or a representative from that winery. The sample will be small, but you’ll be able to see if that wine is one you want to drink that night.

Bin 604 is a cozy shop with shelves up to the ceiling filled with wine bottles. In the center of the shop is what looks like a makeshift living room. Our wine instructor began promptly at 6:00 p.m. The tasting was informal, meaning that you could jump in and out at any time. I chose to arrive right at the start and work my way through until I was finished. At first, it was just a few of us, and slowly, the group grew to 15. By the time I was finished, about an hour after my start, a whole new crew of people were coming in.

I was given a glass and a tasting sheet. The sheet listed each wine, its origin, a brief description, and the price per bottle. Every tasting will start with the lightest wine and end with the heaviest.  Bring a pen so you can jot down your thoughts on each wine. After tasting several wines, it may be hard to remember which ones you liked best.

Our instructor poured us each a one-ounce sample and talked about each wine as we tasted through. He shared helpful insights about the wine’s region, anecdotes about the history of the wine, and his own personal tasting notes. Having a knowledgeable instructor made all of the difference. I was able to ask questions and really get to know the wine I tasted. After every other wine, the instructor encouraged us to cleanse our palate with a piece of cheese and bread.

As always, I begin by swirling my glass and then taking a big deep breath in. I jot down what I smell, and then repeat. The second time, you may smell something completely different. Also write this down. Then take a sip. I always note what I taste. Sometimes it matches up to the tasting sheet, and other times it is completely different. This site is helpful in explaining the correct way to taste and smell wine.

The good news is there’s no wrong answer. Each person’s wine preference may vary. Simply taste what you taste and note the differences in each wine. You’ll be able to immediately tell which wines you prefer over the ones you don’t. If you want to taste a wine again, simply ask the instructor.

 Most tastings offer any of the featured wines at a discount. If you find a wine you love, go for it! If none of the wines tickled your fancy, that’s OK too. If anything, the tasting was a great way to try something new and meet some new people; and there’s nothing wrong with that!

 --- Briana Berg