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Two months ago I wrote a column in which I gave some tips on choosing wine tastings and other wine-centric events. Now that you’ve lined up a few choice events to attend in the coming months, I’ve got some advice on how to act once you get there (and even before). These pieces of advice are intended to help both you and your fellow tasters have a good time and get your money’s worth. They may also help prevent stained shirts and alcohol-fueled fisticuffs. • First, smell, but don’t be smelly. The human tongue, an otherwise wonderful implement, is pretty limited when it comes to wine. It can only perceive five tastes: bitter, salty, sweet, sour, and savory. Since much of the perceived taste of wine is actually its aroma, to properly appreciate a wine, one must be able to actually smell it. Smelly fellow tasters, even if they emanate otherwise pleasing odors, prevent that. They also stand out as rookie tasters. So, please, do shower and wear some deodorant, but pass on the colognes, perfumes, and odoriferous hair products. I, personally, do not enjoy Chianti de Obsession by Calvin Klein or Gallo Reserve Body Odor, especially those of older vintage. And I bet you and your fellow tasters don’t, either. • Second, have a plan. I was recently at a Portuguese wine tasting at the Embassy of Portugal, which, though it showcased uniformly excellent wines from an up-and-coming region, consisted of seven tables in a single, smallish room. A person could easily try all of the wines available in the allotted period of time, and even go back for seconds (with a few thirds and fourths). On the other extreme, the Hospice du Rhone, held in May at the California Mid-State Fairgrounds in Paso Robles, had a tasting book well more than an inch thick. Even using all three hours, I doubt that I tasted one-tenth of what was available. But to get the most out of both tastings, I needed a plan. There are three general rules of thumb in formulating a wine-tasting plan. First, move from light, delicate wines (generally, whites and sparklings) to heavier, more full-bodied ones (generally, reds). Second, move from dry wines (most of what you drink) to sweet wines (Port, Madeira, Boone’s Farm). Third, and probably most important, head directly to wines that you really want to try and that will be gone quickly. The Dom Perignon importer brought only a few bottles to pour to the teeming masses. So get there early. A plan employing these guidelines, along with spitting, will allow you to taste the best at your best. • Third, spit a bit. While this is anathema to many of my friends, you’ll enjoy the tasting more if you imbibe less wine than you actually taste. Your palate will stay sharper, and you will remember what you drank. My personal strategy is to spend the first half of a tasting spitting and the second half filling my libation quota. But a word of warning: Wine-tasting spitting is a skill, not like hocking a loogie back in fifth grade. Please practice at home with some inexpensive wine or fruit juice (water lacks the proper viscosity). An errant spit at a tasting may result in embarrassment, dry-cleaning bills, and lots of dirty looks. A nearly foolproof method is to carry a small, preferably opaque plastic cup for the job. Then you can discreetly expel unwanted wine into the cup and empty it into one of the spit buckets every few minutes. An incidental benefit of spitting is that, at tastings where you can purchase wine on the spot, you are less likely to think that a case of Brunello di Montalcino — about as expensive as a mortgage payment — is a good-value decision. • Fourth, eat while you drink. While most wine tastings offer something to nibble on, some tastings and wine dinners showcase food that pairs well with the wines. When obvious thought goes into a wine and food pairing (New Zealand sauvignon blancs and Australian shirazes simply taste better when served with their native oysters and lamb), chowing down is a no-brainer. But even at events where there is no clear relationship between the wine and the available food, steady grazing can allow you to taste longer and better, and the wine won’t get absorbed into your system as quickly. Some bread or mild-tasting snacks (but not overly spicy, pungent, or oily foods, which can inhibit taste and smell) will help clear your palate. At a minimum, don’t show up at a tasting with an empty stomach — that’s a sure invitation to disaster. • Finally, get out of the way. At most tastings, a number of wines are poured at a single table, often by a single person. This individual likely knows a fair bit about the wines he is pouring and will happily share that knowledge with you. The more you learn about the wine, the more wine this person can sell, which is his ultimate goal. If you have questions, please ask them. If not, please don’t dally — get what you came for and move along. Remember, there are people behind you who would like to try some wines, too. While I can’t tell you what wines to drink at any given tasting, I can tell you that employing some or all of this advice will make your wine events more enjoyable for you and everyone around you. And that’s really the whole point.
Phillip Dubé is an attorney at D.C.’s Covington & Burling.

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