Friday, March 6, 2015

Tasting Etiquette: How Not to be a Wine Snob

I am a fairly seasoned wine taster. I haven’t been to Italy or Napa Valley yet, but I have been to wineries in several other places, including Texas, Maine, New York and Canada. Wine tasting is one of my favorite activities and I generally find it very enjoyable. But sometimes, there are wine snobs and pushy people who also decide to go wine tasting on the same day you do. 

2014 Barrel Tasting at Hermit Woods Winery
During a recent trip to a New Hampshire winery, I encountered such guests, which prompted me to write a list of do’s and don’ts. Please read them with a good sense of humor. A glass of wine is also helpful. 

DO ask questions. I’m not a wine expert or a sommelier, and even when I have tried a wine before, I like hearing its description. I like hearing about how it is made, what it pairs with and other essential information. I may even ask some questions myself. I appreciate when other people ask questions too. I like watching others learn more about wine. Please just be aware that the winery employee may have several customers to pour wine for, so be patient and courteous. They are there to help and discuss the wine with you, but when it is busy, they have multiple customers to attend to at the same time. Repeating your question over and over doesn’t mean it will get answered any faster. 

DON’T ask awkward questions like “how much residual sugar is in this?” or ask the winery employee to keep repeating the name of the wine. It’s right on the bottle. 

DO try each wine (within your own and/ or the winery’s sample limits). On the particular day I went, it was quite busy, so I had to wait a few minutes between tastings. But I didn’t mind, because it gave me time to enjoy my company and the wine itself. Wine tasting is meant to be an enjoyable, relaxing experience. I dislike feeling rushed. 

DON’T be pushy and impatient. If it’s busy, chances are you will have to wait. Winery employees can only pour so much wine and talk to so many customers at once. They are doing the best they can to give everyone the same great experience. Pushing your way through people to the bar or table is rude, and it doesn’t make the atmosphere pleasant or relaxing. Also, holding out your glass in front of other people isn’t appreciated either. Everyone is waiting for more wine, so please wait your turn. If you’re in a hurry, a busy weekend tasting may not be for you. 

DON’T be overly loud. Remember the “inside voice” we all learned to use in school? Please use it in the winery. I am trying to have a nice relaxing experience, and your yelling doesn’t help. It may be busy and loud due to the crowd, but your voice doesn’t need to rise over everyone else’s. During Lakes Region Barrel Tasting Weekend this past fall, my group visited wineries with some of the same groups of people who seemed to be on the same route. One guest in particular rounded up her group at each winery by yelling loudly. This did not add to the atmosphere, especially when we were in one of the smaller wineries on the circuit. Please be courteous of other visitors. I know we aren’t in a library or anything, but we’re also not in a nightclub. 

Wineries should be places where everyone is welcome, no matter how much they know about wine. One of the things I appreciate most about our New Hampshire wineries is their welcoming atmospheres. I want to enjoy my wine without being elbowed or shoved or having to yell loudly to speak to the person next to me. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

New Post: Thin Mints & Wine

NOTE: The Hippo has changed how they are doing some things, so some of you Concord area people may not see all of my columns. I am going to do my best to upload them when they are out so you can still read them. 

I realize they have been out for a few weeks, but if some of you still have some Girl Scout cookies left and haven’t devoured them yet, here are some suggested wine, beer and spirit pairings. If you’re going to eat them (because let’s face it-they are irresistible once they are in the house), you might as well pair them with your favorite beverage. Here are suggestions from the experts, along with my own. I am not an expert, but I am offering my suggestions anyway.

If you’re pairing anything with wine, most experts would say start with the lightest and go from there. The same could be said about beer.

COOKIES! Photo courtesy of Girl Scouts

Trefoils (shortbread cookies)

Wine: All of the experts overwhelmingly suggest pairing this basic shortbread cookie with Champagne or a sparkling wine. The rich, buttery taste will pair nicely with the liveliness of the bubbly and bring out the flavors of the wine. I may also try a Vinho Verde since it has some effervescence.
Beer: Craft Beer & Brewing suggests the following beers: Smuttynose Brewing Company’s Baltic Porter, Oskar Blues Old Chub. They also suggest an IPA to contrast the buttery biscuit quality of the cookie.

Samoas (cookie with caramel & coconut)

Wine: This is one of my all-time favorite Girl Scout cookies due to its combination of chocolate, coconut and caramel. Huffington Post food suggests pairing this cookie with Port, and I have to agree. The sweetness of the Port pairs nicely with the notes of the cookie, and its smoothness will counter the ever so slight crunch and texture. Moonlight Meadery’s Blissful could also be a great match.
Beer: Craft Beer & Brewing suggests a barelywine as a match for this cookie to complement the toasted coconut. Other suggestions include an IPA and coconut porter. Try Squam Brewing’s “The Camp” Barleywine Ale.
Spirit: According to First We Feast, Angel’s Envy Rye is a good match for the Somoa because its brown sugar and cinnamon work well with the coconut in the cookie.

Do-Si-Dos (peanut butter sandwich)

Wine: I like the idea of turning this pairing into a peanut butter and jelly situation. It doesn’t necessarily mean grape jelly, either. To make this happen, you need a fruity, jammy wine. What comes to mind for me is Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz, a South African red wine that would go nicely with the peanut butter. Zweigelt, an Austrian red wine, is another suggested pairing because it is light bodied and fruity. This pairing will also create a peanut butter and jelly scenario. Moonlight Meadery’s Coffee in Bed could also make an interesting combination.
Beer: Craft Beer & Brewing suggest trying a smoked porter or a coffee stout. I would even venture to try this cookie with Able Ebenezer’s Burn the Ships and see how the smokiness stands up against the peanut butter.

Tagalongs (peanut butter & cookie covered in chocolate)

Wine: According to experts, this cookie goes well with Madeira, or a wine with a hint of fruit and sweetness like a Zinfandel. I would also try it with fruit wines like Sweet Baby Vineyard’s Raspberry Wine or Hermit Woods Winery’s Deep Blue.
Beer: The Beer Chicks offer Wells & Youngs Banana Bread Beer as an ideal pairing. I happen to love this idea because it combines three things I like: bananas, chocolate and peanut butter.
First We Feast suggests Johnny Drum by Willett because it can stand up to the richness of the cookie.

Thin Mints

Wine: I wouldn’t typically drink wine and eat a mint cookie. I like mint foods, but this combination is very odd to me. However, experts suggest Syrah or Port. Their richness can stand up to the chocolate and mint in the cookie.
Beer: A beer pairing I can get behind, and Craft Beer & Brewing suggests a chocolate stout, which I think is a genius idea. A beer with some coffee, chocolate or caramel notes will complement the cookies and its weight will match the cookie crunch. They do point out, however, that these beers tend to have a higher alcohol content so extra cookies may be needed! Try Henniker Brewing Company’s The Roast, a seasonal winter stout with gourmet coffee beans roasted exclusively for by Concord’s own White Mountain Coffee Roasters.
Spirit: First We Feast suggests pairing Thin Mints with Basil Hayden’s because its peppermint notes will complement the cookie.