Youth-friendly wine tastings

CarlosGoing to a wine tasting can be an intimidating even for an experienced wine bore like me. There’s all those wines lined up, you have to take a sniff, a little sip, spit – don’t get me started on spitting, a subject that deserves a whole post of its own – and then you have to scribble something. Many’s the time when I’ll be sandwiched between noted wine writers such as Victoria Moore or Robert Parker, and I’ll literally not be able to think of anything to write. It just tastes like Bordeaux; ‘typically claret!’ I’ll write, hoping that Jancis Robinson isn’t looking over my shoulder. It’s even more awkward when the producer is there and wants to tell you about the soil in which the grapes were grown. ‘ Can you taste the schist?’ ‘mmmmm, yes!’

I remember my first wine tasting. It was the Oddbins wine fair in Edinburgh in 2000. I didn’t spit in those days and was later found sliding slowly down the stairs muttering, ‘I’m so drunk, I’m so drunk.’ (Not so drunk, however that I can’t still recall a Bonnezeaux from Chateau de Fesles.) Perhaps part of the reason I got so drunk was because I felt so awkward asking for the wine and then trying to pull a suitably wine-tasty expression when tasting it. Everyone around me seemed to know exactly what they were doing.

One way to make tasting a little more youth-friendly is to embrace the boozy side of wine rather than acting as if we’re judging Pomeranians at Crufts. We drink alcohol when we’re celebrating, why not combine wine with festivity? It’s pretty radical stuff but it seems to be catching on.  Whilst I was in California recently, a local wine merchant, Domaine LA, was offering Morgons on Superbowl Sunday, a day more usually associated with hot dogs and Budweiser. Now for World Malbec Day on the 17th April there’s an event in Dalston (I just resisted the urge to use the epithet fashionable before Dalston) called Cambalanche which combines wine tasting with other noted Argentine exports such as music, food and, er, graffiti.

It sounds fun. Instead of having to talk about fermentation temperatures or worrying about your spitting technique, you can munch on an empanada and strut around dramatically to Astor Piazzollo. I tried to persuade my dear old Dad to come but he’s boycotting Argentina because of their continued claim on the Falkland Islands. Instead he’s going to celebrate World Malbec Day by staying at home with a bottle of Cahors and some reheated cassoulet. Actually that sounds quite fun as well. What to do?

About Henry

I’m a drinks writer. My day job is features editor at the Master of Malt blog. I also contribute to BBC Good Food, the Spectator and others. You can read some of my work here. I’ve done a bit of radio, given some talks and written a couple of books (Empire of Booze, The Home Bar and the forthcoming Cocktail Dictionary).
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8 Responses to Youth-friendly wine tastings

  1. Emma B says:

    I think part of the problem with trade tastings is also the “obligation” to be there as profeshnuls, which can suck the fun out of it. Which must be part of why the Big Fortified Tasting is so much fun – only the trade people who love these wines are liable to go, so there’s a much happier atmosphere, because it’s almost a consumer event.

    It can be tricky when the person on the selling side of the table wants to tell you every last detail of the production, yes. But I’ll take that any day over the junior nonentity from the importer who knows nothing and cares less, but got stuck with “representing” the New Worlder who can’t afford to travel.

    On your main point, I don’t know that it’s a youth issue so much as a lack of establishment one? And, of course, a snobbery problem. There’s a certain type who more or less runs the wine business, and there can be a problem with sneering at anyone who isn’t like them, be it a matter of age / class / gender / whatever. And *that’s* where the intimidation arises. There’s some of us who will push past it, but others who don’t, and it can trickle down to give consumers the wrong idea about wine. The best thing that could happen for wine would be to get a Jamie Oliver / Brian Cox type everybloke chatting about it to normalise it for younger drinkers, which over time might then encourage a broader range into the trade over the following decade or two. Sad to say, but I really think it’ll take at least that long. Look at how long it’s taken to get from bewhiskered real ale to funky microbreweries, after all.

    • Henry says:

      Thanks for the considered reply. I’ve been pondering exactly the same thing about wine & snobbery & class though I have come to rather different conclusions to you. I think wine, like beer, is now becoming trendy and, like beer again, the excitement is at the craft end. The natural wine fairs in London were full of bearded youngsters and yet the wine world is still an intimidating place. Will write my next blog post as a proper response.

  2. Don’t take schist for granite.

  3. Love the photo of those wine tasters looking all Harold Lloyd-esque! Or, is that indeed Buster Keaton on the right?

  4. With regards to introducing people to wine and wine tastings whether they are youthful or not, I think it’s very important to make sure it is fun, accessible and interactive. If you can send them off with a few new bits of wine knowledge without them realising I think you’ve have done a very good job. Don’t lecture – after all, who wants to be talked at? Make them feel like they have more knowledge than they arrived with and in my experience, they will come back for more.

    Adding to Emma B’s comment about snobbery – I was at a Champagne tasting recently which wasn’t friendly at all but I felt this was down to the professional tasters rather than the Champagne growers. In fact, I overheard one of the older tasters claiming to enjoy the luxury of his funded wine trips more than the wine itself. What kind of impression does that give to an aspiring young wine taster?

  5. Richard says:

    That Bonnezeaux was eaux zeaux memorable. Great post and I enjoyed Emma B’s response as well. Though personally I hate popularised things, partly because I am an insecure snob who resorts to knee-jerk disdain of other people in lieu of feeling good about my own life choices, but also because you can end up with the most obvious qualities of a thing emphasised at the expense of all the interesting bits. So all the microbrews over here (Singapore) taste of, well, fizzy microbrew hops, and I would kill or at least injure someone for a proper pint of Brains or Abbot.

    The event in so-called Dalston sounds like fun.

  6. Pingback: Wine of the Week: Rigal Malbec L’ Instant Truffier 2011 | Henry's World of Booze

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