Everyone loves a wine tasting. After all, what’s not to like when it comes to sipping vino with your friends. While the wines may highlight the event’s marquis, it is truly the cast of characters assembled that make a wine tasting memorable. As wines swirl in glasses, personalities are magnified. Inhibitions dissipate. Rules of decorum may ease just a bit. The sights and sounds emulating from the tasters are a spectacle to behold. The swirling and sipping, sniffing and glass-gazing, the “oohs” and “ahhs”, grand gestures and subtle expressions – you’d think these people were in the middle of massage therapy.
You can learn a lot about wine at such events. But also watch closely as your wine tasting buddies reveal much about themselves with each passing sip. Careful and analytical scientific research has categorized these sniffers and quaffers into a few distinct prototypes. See if any of your tasting pals fall into one or more of these descriptors.
The Cork Dork – You know the type. He doesn’t smile. Conversation, if he decides to share any, revolves solely around the wine in hand. Absolute concentration is required before he commences his routine. Hospital emergency wards have been less tense than the aura surrounding this pulseless prince of pretentiousness. Eyes close, head tilts, air sucks in between his lips while he gurgles audibly for all to hear. No, it’s not a Listerine commercial. It’s the Cork Dork. And when he is through levitating and returns from his trance, in one last heroic expression of vino machismo, he spits. Because that’s what real men do. They spit. He is not tasting this wine. He is having a relationship with it. And based on his warm and inviting persona, this is probably the most intimate relationship he has had in years.
The Newbie – New to such an experience, Newbies are just thrilled to be there. Easy to please, polite and smiling, maybe even giggling (gasp!), the first timer is pure joy. Unless of course you are a Cork Dork, in which case you are highly offended. Neophytes are often the easiest to please and most grateful tasters in the room. They don’t have a clue what they are sipping, but no matter. To them it’s all fun. And unless you are a fun-hater, these folks can add levity to the sometimes thick air in the room.
The Sponge – The last ‘tasting’ that this meathead attended involved a styrene cup and a keg. Baffled by the stingy amount of juice procured into such a large glass, the quest for quantity becomes his priority. Eyes peak to see if anyone else’s glass if filled higher. He is known for rushing the tasting station like a Springsteen fan for concert tickets. Cuts in line are quite common – and how about that extra glass “for my friend”? Someone please tell this Neanderthal where he can find the Jagermeister.
The Rater – To this technologically addicted taster, wines have no brands and no names, only ratings and numbers. Not to be confused with the Cork Dork, this person needs no palate whatsoever. Armed with his all-knowing smartphone, this circus act can simultaneously swirl with one hand and thumb click with the other. Proceeding to sip and read microscopic text as his head tilts backwards, the actual tasting of the wine is a mere formality. It’s all about the wine rating. After all, why bother with individual tastes and preferences when the ‘experts’ can tell you what you are supposed to like? This may explain why their mothers still dress them in the morning.
The Moscato Mosquito – These are the anti-Raters. Numbers and ratings do not matter to this bunch. They care not whether the wine is from a renowned pedigree or appellation. All they want is Moscato. These jewelry rattlers may sample the other wines out of sheer courtesy, but you can bet their Lexus it won’t be long before they are hovering around the Moscato bottles like flies on… you get the idea. Domestic, imported, sparkling, not sparkling, pink or white, it doesn’t matter. Just pour them the sweet stuff and tell them you like their tan.
The Strong Silent Type – This, my friends, is the quintessential wine taster. He is aware of ratings, but does not live by them. Quality, not quantity, is why he is here. His palate alone is his guide. This taster is educated and experienced with wine, appreciates wine, and knows that there is always more to learn and discover within the world of wine. He has no need for showboating. His reason for being here is to enjoy good wine and good times with friends, both old and new. If those friends happen to be Cork Dorks, Newbies, Sponges, Raters, or Moscato Mosquitos, well, that’s quite alright. It makes for an interesting evening.
The Blowhard – We all know this person. He can actually be quite entertaining. Emboldened by his seemingly bottomless glass of liquid courage, this king of the run-on sentence feels the need to pontificate endlessly of his wine prowess. He comes fully-armed with over the top metaphors, many of which are completely incomprehensible.
Someone please explain to me how this mammal can know of “the aroma of a fresh laundry basket at the break of dawn in the French countryside” when, by all indications, he has never left Fremont, or worn a clean shirt. Like tasting wine with Harry Caray must have been, you get his play-by-play of the entire experience. Most saddening is the fact that this mouthpiece may actually know a lot about wine. Most irritating is the fact that he won’t shut up about it. Most comforting is the knowledge that you can leave him at the table right along with your empty glass after the tasting is over, unless of course, he is yours (sigh).
The Emoter Mouth – This gem is easily the most unpredictable of all tasters. While the Blowhard can’t stop talking about wine, the Emoter can’t stop talking about anything other than wine. The Emoter may be quite capable of holding down multiple martinis or a six pack of beer at one sitting. Wine, however, is foreign. It does something strange to them. With each passing sip you come closer to becoming their new buddy, their confidant. It all seems so cordial and heart-warming, but fasten your seat belt. Mount Etna is preparing for eruption. Everything you never wanted to know about them is about to be thrust upon you, their newly christened BFF. From the mouths of babes come no holds barred, soul-baring confessions of spouses, kids, jobs, neighbors, illicit activities (we don’t need to hear these!) and eye-popping revelations of all kinds. You can’t stop this freight train and the Emoter is certain that you want to hear it all, in its ugly entirety. Chateau Truth Serum has been poured and along with the revelations comes the entire gamut of human emotion; anger, laughter, tears, joy, heartache…you name it. You did not order this appetizer, you do not want this appetizer, but it’s coming anyway – it’s on the house.
The Blotto – Look around. Find the potted plant. Moving ever so slowly, he is the one trying valiantly to complete a sentence. Grasping the bowl of his wine glass firmly in the palm of his hand, he appears to be using his stemware as a tightrope walker might use his balancing rod. In this case, however, the tightrope is called ‘carpet’. Look down. That’s the stuff with the spots that match those on his shoes and shirt. Those spots are also amazingly close in tint to the stuff that used to be in his glass. This walking coma is surprisingly not all that offensive. He is content to mind his own business while mumbling audible half-sentences to his nearby imaginary friend. Reacting in slow motion and with time-delay to any outside stimulus, this is much like watching an old second-rate movie, where the sound and movements don’t quite match up. But fear not, he has his medicine in hand and a soulmate somewhere in the room ready to drive him home at the appropriate time. If he can be kept upright for a little while longer, he can stay. Just stand him in the corner and make sure he doesn’t fall over and make a mess. Like a potted plant.
The Superior Palate – This skilled manipulator can convince you exactly what aromas and flavors you will taste. Mind you, such flavors need not actually exist in the wine. All that is needed is an open mind and your willingness to accept – unquestioningly – the expertise of a supposed superior palate. Ladies and gentlemen, you are suffering from “The Emperor’s New Clothes” syndrome. But fear not – eventually you realize the obvious, which is: if you can’t taste it, then IT’S NOT THERE! Imagine if someone could convince you that hamburger tasted like steak. Wouldn’t McDonald’s stock go through the roof?
The Smooth Operator – This person is at the wine tasting for one reason and one reason only: the opposite sex. Convinced that he/she just flat out looks more attractive, sophisticated, successful and distinguished with a glass of wine in hand, this player really isn’t all that smooth – they just think they are. In reality, each sip of wine only makes everyone else in the room appear that much more attractive. Think about it. If this person was as all that desirable, why would they be trolling the room solo? Okay, there’s no need to be insulting here. With admiration for his initiative and courageous efforts, we will respectfully dub this specimen ‘The Smooth Operator’.
Wine tastings are, first and foremost, about the wine. While some industry-related formal events may be uber-serious, the vast majority of them are casual, social and entertaining. Either way, they’re fun. Next time you attend one, do yourself a favor: Check out your tasting pals while you are working out your taste buds. You don’t want to miss what may well be the best part of the show.
John Finocchiaro is co-owner of Johnson Brothers Finocchiaro, LLC, a Nebraska wholesale wine, spirits, and beer distributor. Formerly the owner of Finocchiaro Wine Co., Inc., John has been in the wine distribution business for the past 25 years and the Finocchiaro family's association with the Nebraska wine industry has been continuous for the past 73 years, since 1935. John was a Certified Public Accountant before entering the family business and is a Certified Specialist of Wine.
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