‘Tis the Season... for Tasting
Part Spirits, Part Marathon,
Portfolio Tastings are Challenging
BY ANDREW BELL
utumn is Portfolio Tasting Sea-
son. On some days in September
and October you may have two
or three events to choose from.
With the right approach, these events can
be invaluable educational opportunities.
I encourage anyone in the early stages
of his or her career to go to as many tast-
ings as possible. They provide excellent
structure for self-guided study and the
opportunity to taste a vast range of wines
free of charge.
Even for established professionals, a
portfolio tasting is a focused opportunity
to accomplish a lot in a short amount of
time. If you already buy from the supplier,
their tasting might offer a rare chance to
taste high-end products or products in
short supply. And attending the tasting of
a supplier that you are
familiar with is
the best way to get to know their portfo-
lio. In both cases, tastings also give you
a golden opportunity to develop relation-
ships directly with producers.
Plan of Attack
Rule #1 of Portfolio Tastings is BE PRE-
PARED. Preparation makes the differ-
ence between time well spent and time
wasted. These events are planned months
in advance—ask your sales rep to let you
know once the date is set. A tasting book
and table map should be available within
a month of the event. Acquire these early
in order to plot your course. Before you
even walk in the door you should know
which wines you want to taste and, ideal-
ly, where they are stationed in the venue.
Do your homework on target produc-
ers. Look to producer and supplier web-
sites or online and print publications for
background information. Develop ques-
tions to ask.
With target list and research in
hand, you’re ready to taste. Bring plenty
of business cards, but leave as much else
as possible at home. While there are
usually coat checks, the line to reclaim
your possessions can be long and pre-
vent a speedy exit.
To keep your palate sharp, eat a light
the tasting. Arrive early to
beat the crowds—you’ll have greater ac-
cess to the wines and winemakers, and it
will ensure that there is still wine to taste!
Set a time limit to help maintain focus
and prevent the tasting from stretching
into a lost afternoon.
How many wines should you plan to
taste? Most people begin to experience
palate fatigue between 12 and 25 wines.
Preferably, you should taste in order
from sparkling to light whites, to heavier
whites, light reds, heavier reds and, fi-
nally, sweet wines. That said, know your
priorities and, regardless of style, make
sure the most important wines are in the
first 12 tasted.
One of the biggest hazards you may
face is…excessive socializing! Remember,
you are there to taste and learn; don’t get
drawn into an afternoon catch-up ses-
sions. Serious professionals will under-
stand and respect this.
After 25 wines it’s easy to forget char-
acteristics of the first. Understand that
you can’t capture every nuance of every
wine—get the general sense of each with
broad strokes: high acid, fruit-forward,
new oak, etc. Use simple shorthand to
help keep speedy, concise notes, includ-
ing thoughts on how the wine might fit
in your program (by the glass or by the
bottle, for example).
Afterward, it’s important to organize
and recap your notes as soon as pos-
sible—this will help you to internalize
the new information. My recommenda-
tion is to find an electronic system that
works for you. Portfolio tasting books
get lost and destroyed, but emails to
yourself are forever!
Finally, be sure to follow up with
anyone you traded cards with. A quick
“loved the wine, thank you” or “great to
see you” can go a long way in making sure
that YOU are the sommelier who stood
out from the portfolio tasting crowd.
Through the Sales, Service and Buying Seminar Series,
American Sommelier provides professionals with the tools
needed to build and maintain a successful wine program
in any restaurant environment. Member benefits include
events, career guidance, discounts and a the American
Sommelier newsletter. For more details and a calendar of
classes, visit americansommelier.com or call 212-226-6805.