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The Tasting Ritual
© by April Eichmeier
You probably saw a lot of this during the recent holidays, but it goes on all year: people feel festive. They get the urge to splurge and celebrate, often in hoity-toity restaurants. For those who are new to wine, the experience of wine in a hoity-toity restaurant can be quite stressful (and the holidays are no time for added stress).

You know what I'm talking about. The Sommelier, Wine Director, or other High Priest or Priestess of Bacchus comes to your table. The first part is easy. You tell him or her what you like, what you are having, or some other piece of pertinent information. The Wine Director comes to your rescue by recommending a few selections from the list.

But when the Wine Director returns, what do you do? The "tasting ritual," of course.

But never fear. There is help.

Without diving into a deep history of wine, the tasting ritual started with a practical purpose. Before modern wine making methods, wine often went bad, so patrons were offered the opportunity to test their wine before drinking it. The infamous inspection of the cork was to guard against unscrupulous restaurateurs or suppliers who might have switched a lesser wine into the bottle of a greater one. If the cork didn't match, or it looked tampered-with, chances were good that the wine is not what the bottle said.

These days the ritual is not as necessary. But the tradition continues.

First, any good Wine Director ought to present the bottle with the label clearly showing. You should have time to read the label and inspect it if you wish. If they pull it away, do not hesitate to request a second viewing. The Wine Director, at this point, should also read the name and vintage to be sure that the wine is what your ordered. If something has changed, such as a vintage year, it is the wine director's duty to let you know. You can, at that point, get another bottle if you wish.

Second, the Wine Director cuts the foil and extracts the cork. He or she will then present the cork to you. If you take nothing else away from this lesson, remember this: sniffing the cork tells you nothing. Sniffing the cork, though, tells the wine director that you don't know what you're doing.

If you must do something with the cork, pick it up and look at it. If it looks bad, that may be a bad sign. But in 99% of bad cork events, it's harmless.

Next, smell the wine before you swirl. If there are any off odors they're going to be most apparent before you let them escape. After this initial test, swirl the wine and breathe deeply.

Now is the time to taste the wine. Take a sip, draw in air over your mouth if you like! Yes, yes, it makes a slurping sound. You're almost done.

Last, nod at the Wine Steward if you find the wine to be acceptable, fabulous, grand treat to the palate, what have you. This is the signal that the Wine Steward ought to pour for the other guests. It is part of the ritual to pour for the guests first, so don't fret if you, the taster, the one who did all the work, are not served right away.

So go be festive in the hoity-toity restaurants. It relieves stress.

Happy Millennium!

Dec. 29, 2000

To contact April Eichmeier, write her at aeichmeier@hotmail.com.

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