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A wine tasting event in a loud & good-smelling restaurant:  My tips for enjoying the wines

I signed up for this wine tasting event after receiving this engaging invitation:


The theme was Northern Italy. My husband and I arrived just before 7:00 pm and were led to the back of the restaurant, where an L-shape table was set up for 12 guests. The table was neatly set up, with the tasting menu facing us. 

I knew the tasting was not going to be what I expected when the waiter kindly offered us to start with a cocktail while waiting on the other guests.

We declined, of course, since we wanted to keep our senses fresh and ready to experience wines from a region we both loved.

This wine tasting event was set up in a challenging space

Caitlin came to introduce herself as the sommelier leading the testing and told us that we will start the tasting once everyone had arrived, which only took 5 minutes.

We started to exchange a few words with the other participants, but we had to project our voice so much and lean across the table to hear their answers. The music was so loud!

Then Caitlin came to greet everyone and explained the flow of the tasting. She didn’t know where to stand really to avoid turning her back to one of us; she chose to stand at the intersection of the 2 tables forming the L shape. 

"It's all about the wine," she said, and the chef chose the food bites to complement the wine and not the reverse as often a wine pairing is done. Indeed, when you have a great dish, you look for the wine that will complement the food flavors and texture. She also encouraged us to order other appetizers as the food bites were just bites.

The waiter set up the first glass in front of us and Caitlin started pouring the first wine sample… well it was more than a sample, about 4 oz if not 5 oz. I made the comment that it was a great serving for just tasting and she smiled saying they were very generous on the wine. Indeed, the portions were generous and we could have top ups if we wanted. 

The first wine was a Pinot Bianco from the Tramin winery in the Alto Adige (2015). Patrick asked me what were the aromas I was smelling and I replied… smoke from the kitchen where they bake pizzas in a wood oven. It took me a lot of focus to get to the floral notes and golden fruit notes Caitlin announced before we tasted.

My tips for getting the most out of this loud and wonderful smelly restaurant

This is how I managed to appreciate each wine and learn about them.

1- Keep your focus on the wine by taking notes

I felt like a wine snob taking my small notebook out of my purse. However, writing down what I smelled and tasted was a great way to stay focused on my wine tasting experience.

I also tried to capture all the insights shared by our sommelier, however she was speaking very fast and it was difficult to record all the details. I felt she was somewhat disappointed by the lack of engagement of the crowd as she was delivering her insights on the wines and the wineries.

2- Rinse your palate with water and bread

The waiter was also generous in filling up our water glasses. Water was cold, however, without ice which was what I had hoped for. French “baguette en épi” appeared and helped with the palate rinsing.

3-Order a full serving of each dish

In retrospect, we should have ordered the dishes paired with each wine in a full serving rather than a small bite. As wine pours were very generous, it was necessary to eat and pace the time between wine samples.

 4- And of course, rinse your palate to reset your senses before the next wine.

How to improve a similar wine tasting event?

First I would suggest to move the event to a private room, or on the enclosed porch. Having a separate setting would have enabled Caitlin to have a better engagement. Seated with people enjoying their dinner defined the mindsets of the wine tasting guests to enjoy a meal rather than enjoy the wine.

It would have been great to ask first the motivation of the participants at the beginning of the event and their level of knowledge of the Northern Italy region. This would have favored, I think, the sense of communal tasting that the table setting was hoping to create. 

Our host was describing the wine ahead of the tasting, without tasting with us. This was also a miss to engage personally with the participants. Please describe the wine with us as we can learn from each others experiences.

I enjoyed this wine tasting event, don't read me wrong. It wasn't the wine tasting experience I had envisioned when I signed up, that's all.

Have you been to such a wine tasting event? 

What was your experience? How did you manage to appreciate the wines in an environment full of distraction?

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Notes I took at the wine tasting event

Pinot Bianco from the winery Tramin in the Alto Adige (2015)

Aroma: white and yellow fruits, citrusy, some aniseed.
Flavor: very smooth, a bit yeasty.
The pairing with 2 small dolmas worked well, although the citrusy yogurt sauce took over the wine flavor. 

Malvasia from Venica and Venica, in the Friuli (2016)

Aroma: yeast, resinous.
Flavor: dry mouthfeel. 

It paired well with the black truffle vinaigrette of the saffron arancini (left).

Nebbiolo from Casino Adelaide, in Piedmont (2012)

Aroma: slight nail polish remover (a sign of volatile acidity) that went off quickly by swirling the glass. Then a strong black cherry aroma that was persistent also in mouth.
Flavor: astringent in the finish, with the noticeable black cherry and some toasted oak flavours.

The pairing was proposed with pork belly. Patrick and I tasted a grilled octopus with some balsamic reduction that complemented the wine very well.

Amarone della Valpolicella, from Busola in Veneto (2011)

The king of Italian wines, this sample did not disappoint.
Aromas of dark spices, chocolate and caramel were very present and typical of the wine style.
Flavor: smooth with a bit of dryness on the finish that disappeared when paired with the ultra sweet and chocolatey dessert that was served with it.