When some Jolly Ranchers overdid it at a party back in 2012, they slipped themselves out from their cellophane wrappers and fell into batches of Glacier Peak Winery Malbec Wine. I couldn’t be happier about this indiscretion on the part of those Jolly Ranchers on what must have been one wild, wild night. I happily sip away, while reading the menu card description next to the wine I’m tasting. It says there are notes of Jolly Rancher.
“Nate! You can taste the Jolly Ranchers! You can taste them!” I exclaim, perhaps a little too loudly in the tasting room at Glacier Peak off of State Route 20 in Rockport, WA.
Nate just nods thoughtfully as we continue our journey through wines at the bar inside a cozy red barn that has frosting pink lettering on the outside advertising “Gourmet Goodies.” Alex is tucked away at a table, contently gobbling down a pint of butter pecan ice cream. He thinks wine tasting will be boring, so Nate and I promise it will only take 10-20 minutes. After all, this isn’t our first wine tasting rodeo. When we were dating—back in the late 90s— we sampled different wines in Ohio and Michigan, but we could never call ourselves experts. I’m not even sure what you’re supposed to wear or how you’re supposed to behave at a wine tasting. However, I am rather certain that I’m not supposed to get loud at the bar, but I can’t help it. These wines are extremely exciting!
To save other hapless souls from any embarrassment though, I think it’s my civic duty to perhaps find some information on the Internet and provide wine tasting steps and etiquette. My attempt below is a comparison between what is supposed to happen and what really happens at the Glacier Peak Winery when I visit:
1) Wear comfortable, but somewhat stylish, casual outfits. According to WineCountry.com, a site dedicated to giving readers the “inside scoop” in Napa Valley and other wine tour/tasting areas, women might try a “blouse with blue jeans and wedges.” Men might try golfing attire or stylish jeans.
What really happens: Nate, Alex, and I trudge into the winery wearing our hiking outfits. Our shoes are caked in sand and dirt. We approach the counter saying,
“Hello?! We’re here!”
2) Don’t wear any fragrances or perfumes. Matt Kettman, writing for Wine Enthusiast, interviewed several wine tasting room experts who all agree that wearing perfumes could ruin the wine-tasting experience. Wine tasting includes smelling the wine first, so perfumes and colognes could interfere.
What really happens: No problem there—maybe. Any colognes or perfumes we might have been wearing have worn off during our hike. They’re replaced by more earthy and musty scents.
3) Start with the appearance of the wine. Look closely. The University of Michigan has a wine club, run by MBA students, who I would imagine would be on the cutting edge of research. As a former graduate student myself, I know the thirst for knowledge (wine) can never be satiated. The website for this club includes steps for wine tasting and the first step is to look at the wine to judge the appearance. White wines can range from “pale yellow green” to “brown.” Red wines can be “amber purple” to “red brown.” Other “visual clues” can include “legs” or “tears” that run down the glass, which could indicate the alcohol content level, according to the Wolverine’s website.
What really happens: I don’t remember looking at the wines when they were poured. Sorry.
4) After looking at the wine, smell it. The Wine Society’s website contains a detailed and illustrated list for the steps in properly tasting wine. The wine glass should be held still and not swirled at first: “Note cleanness, intensity, grape variety, new oak finesse, persistence.” Then, you can, “give the wine a good swirl, and smell immediately as it settles.” Try to detect the differences in scent between the “still” wine and the “swirled” wine.
What really happens: I just grab the glass by the stem and give it a good swirl. Some of it sloshes out of the glass while I apologize and laugh. I take a good whiff and wave my hand over the glass, hoping “fumes” will waft up into my nostrils. I smell nothing out of the ordinary so I nod, and say, “Nice. Very nice.”
5) Next, according to The Wine Society, it’s important to take a generous teaspoonful of the wine into the mouth and swirl it about—while noting the dimensions of the wine. Then, spit. Re-taste and spit.
What really happens: I take large gulps and try to keep up with Nate. He’s turning this into a drinking contest! Oh, wait. He’s not. He’s just dumping leftover wine into a pitcher. I should probably do the same—so I can go the distance.
6) Krisanne Fordham, in a 2016 Condé Nast Traveler article, interviews the sommelier for Hinoki and The Bird restaurant in L.A. to find out tips for tasting wine properly. One important tip stated in the article is to eat the crackers the tasting room provides. These crackers help cleanse the palate between wines and between reds and whites.
What really happens: Nate is closer to the crackers, so he eats them. I’m too lazy to go over to the crackers. That hike was hard! I just sip wine after wine.
7) The Wine Society suggests the following order for tasting wines: white before red, dry before sweet, young before old, light before full bodied.
What really happens: We actually do start with white wines. We drink about two of them: the Siegerrabe white and the Angeline. Since I don’t know what I’m supposed to know about these wines, I copy down one or two descriptions from the menu list in front of me. The Siegerrabe has “notes of lemon.” The Angeline has “lime and green apple.” Next, we move to the reds. The Pinot Noir has “cherry” and herbs like “clove,” which I can definitely taste. The Cabernet boasts “black cherry” and “currant” while the Merlot has “chocolate” and “black cherry.” The Malbec, as mentioned before, captures the Jolly Rancher incident of 2012, and the Syrah is “smoky”—from real forest fires. I’m immediately intrigued:
“This makes me want to barbecue something tonight,” I tell Nate.
“It would be good with roast pork,” the tasting room attendant offers.
“Or chicken. I can taste barbecued chicken in this wine! I swear!” I say.
“Most people pair it with roast pork,” she says, while Nate nods politely.
“I’d do chicken. I really would.”
“My wife gets surly when she drinks,” Nate tells the tasting room attendant, who is laughing.
“No I don’t!” I counter.
So Nate and the tasting room attendant pull out the last wine for the day—a sweet wine called “Apple Pie.”
“Is that what I think it is?” I ask Nate.
“Sure looks like it,” he says.
At the last Kennedy Christmas gathering back in Ohio, one of Nate’s brothers pulled out a jar of apple pie. The clear, Mason jar was filled with some kind of liquid, through which cinnamon and other spices swirled about. It got passed along the couch where I was sitting and, at first, it didn’t look that appetizing, but guests oohed and aahed when then sipped it, saying, “That’s some good moonshine!” So, I took a sip as it came around and discovered that it was quite good. If that’s how homemade apple pie tasted, I couldn’t wait to see how professionals did it.
Glacier Peak Winery’s version is warm, smooth, and satisfying—with notes of rum raisin. (I made that one up myself!) These professionals make their apple pie from grapes. (Nate suspects the base for the Kennedy Christmas apple pie might be Everclear, but that’s Nate’s brother’s secret to keep, not ours.)
“So, let’s buy something,” Nate suggests. “What should we get?”“I want the most unusual ones—the ones you’re not expecting—like Jolly Rancher and smoke and the cloves. It will totally blow minds when and if we ever have guests over.”
“Let’s just get one.”
“Okay—which was your favorite?” I ask.
Nate points to the Apple Pie. I couldn’t agree more. We leave the wine tasting room with our bottle of “moonshine” and plans for a barbecue.
Your Turn: Do you have any tips for wine tasting? Any fun or interesting experiences wine tasting or hosting your own? Discuss below!