It sounds easy, heading up to London to taste wine all afternoon. I have managed to shy away from many trade tastings this year, but am back on the scene today? Here is an insight into what happens at a trade tasting.
We probably receive a similar amount of invites to wine tastings as we do requests for donations to charities. There ought to be a link, and maybe the two bodies should meet. This isn't a complaint, but we need to be selective, otherwise we would be tasting all year round. We might consider, is the host an existing supplier? We can remind ourselves of their range. Or is it a generic tasting, where you would perhaps have opportunity to really get your head around 200 New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, then check yourself into a mental institution. Or it could be a group of new suppliers, who have joined together to offer a broad range of wines under one roof.
Is it worth making the effort to attend? Tastings are generally held in London. So travel and time are expensive, there is the usual ticket roulette, when is my travel card valid and on what. How long could you taste for, consistently and with tasting notes more complex than a tick or a cross. Have you read the small print on the invite where it states you must wear a tie, and salmon chinos and a brogues, or you will be refused entry? And then there are all the bright lights and shiny things in London which are so so distracting.
Today I am visiting a long standing supplier, when I remember to order, good people, and we would like to order more lines from them. Do we have space? Probably not, but we would like to prioritise some purchases in their direction. We have got into a rut and order the same safe lines, so I'll be looking for some new things which might improve our existing range. We constantly review our offering.
I imagine there might be about 200 wines to taste, which with practice is achievable in a session, followed by a visit to the dental hygienist. We have been promised delights from Georgia, Portugal, Greece, Burgundy, England, Champagne, plus others. I will be looking for Portuguese, plus any good surprises.
There are lots of different ways of approaching a big tasting, chose a way which works for you. Currently I tend to favour tasting all the whites I need to taste, followed by all the reds, then finish with uplifting fizz. Other days I might tackle 50 whites, then the same of reds, then go back to reds - I find the reds harder on the mouth after awhile. I'm reasonably military like, I have a finite amount of time and generally need to get a certain number of wines tasted to make it a productive day. There is normally a bit of chat to avoid, lots of nice people, but if you start conversations with everyone, you won't get enough tasted.
I don't really look at the prices. I just taste the wines, make a note, then rinse and repeat until beer o'clock. While we move around the room, trying to slice our way through people who will not move away from the tasting counter, and avoid those who like to chat across a spittoon, we also have to try and remember if certain wines are in multiples or competitors - as we do not need to taste these.
Whatever people say, this process does require concentration. If I am stressed, then the tasting notes may read negatively, because I want to be elsewhere, if I'm buoyant then I'm in danger of buying everything. On my return I go back through all the notes and make some ticks and crosses. Then I go through again and work out if the wine and price will work. Wines might also be eliminated or promoted on how they look, it seems trivial but presentation makes a difference.
We then start the process of buying the wines in, promoting them, and trying to get them sold, but that's another story.
After four hours non stop tasting, hopefully there will be beer treats and perhaps a meal out as a just reward.
Written by Henry