Three Types of Tastings

This Wine-a-Palooza event featured the wines of Portugal. I enjoy these tastings much more when they focus on a specific grape or region.

If you have drifted here from my original blog Chicago Pinot (and Other Favorites), welcome! My name is Chicago Pinot, and here is where I share what I am learning about wine and profiling people throughout Chicagoland whose career, whose passion, involves wine.

We’re lucky here in Chicago to have access to several dozen independent wine stores along with the big guns such as Binny’s and Armanetti’s. Many of these stores host wine events of different sizes and varieties.

It’s helpful to know what to expect, and how to best keep up on wine happenings here in Da City.

Most wine events fall into one of three categories. Most common are the quickie tastings, held mostly in wine stores and occasionally in supermarkets like Jewel and Whole Foods. You usually are presented with three to six samples, poured by a local distributor representative. Occasionally, the winemaker or a winery representative will do the pouring, so it’s a great opportunity to ask questions.

Since these events are usually free or very low cost, you shouldn’t expect more than a half-ounce taste of most of the wines featured. Understandably, you may not fully get a sense of a wine’s qualities with so little in your glass. Speaking of the glass, if your wine shop presents you with an actual glass to taste from, that is a major plus, most places will opt for those plastic picnic cups.

These tastings are best if you recognize a bottle you were considering purchasing anyway or if you are looking for an impulse buy in a hurry and want to get something at least agreeable with your palate.

At the other extreme are what I call the “Wine-a-Palooza” events. I define these as events where you have at least twenty wines to choose from. There’s almost always an entrance fee (starting around $15 for the ones that local wine stores sponsor, to upwards of $40 to $50 for tastings sponsored by outside wineries or distributors, or associated with a charity).

They are almost always a step up from the “quickie” tastings described above. You almost always get a real glass to taste from (but you usually can’t take it home), there’s usually some food to sample (from simple cheese and crackers to multiple samples of finger food that can really bring on the calories!), and if you’re discreet, you can usually come back for seconds on a wine you really like!

When I first migrated from beer to wine, about five or six years ago, I welcomed these events but now realize that sometimes they can be too much of a good thing. Some of the potential disadvantages include the food running out, or aren’t a great pairing with the wines, the lack of enough room to walk around or sit down if necessary, and the potential overcrowding.

Unless you are a disciplined taster (bring water to taste between samples, don’t swallow everything you taste, take frequent notes), you may find it hard to remember more than a dozen of the wines you taste. If you’re planning to invest in a case or two of you favorite bottles, this type of event might not be the best way to conduct research.

Liz Caskey leads her students in a study of South American wines at Just Grapes.

As you become more familiar with wines from different regions, the third type of wine event, what I call “Middle Ground”, will probably hold more interest. I would describe Middle Ground as featuring between four to eight wines, hosted by a local distributor, sales representative, or perhaps the winemaker him/her self.

Some of the stores who hold these informal evenings frequently are Binny’s, Fox & Obel, Que Syrah Fine Wines, and Just Grapes.

This host will talk about each glass poured individually, and you will taste each one as a group, and then discuss together. There’s usually a brochure or flyer you can take home that explains the wines in greater detail. It’s really an excellent way to compare your thoughts with those of other tasters. You may even make a few new friends by the end of the night! You will also leave with a thorough understanding of a specific understanding of a winemaker’s, or grape’s taste profile.

And as any wine nerd will tell you, specificity is almost everything, when it comes to wine!

To find out about future Chicago wine tastings, please subscribe to my blog, and definitely bookmark, the clearinghouse for wine activities throughout the world. Happy tasting!

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