Odyssey, This Is Houston, part 2

Part two on ways to make sure your wine tasting trip doesn’t turn into just another expensive, crummy drunkfest.

7.  Eat, Drink, And Be Merry

Wine tasting is something that grown-ups do, so it’s best to plan to act like one as you set out on your hedonic quest. If you’re planning to stop in at more than four wineries in a day, you’re either a glutton for punishment or a piggish drunk. Racing instead of pacing is a fool’s errand. An empty stomach is the devil’s playmate. And, thinking that you don’t need any water because wine is all liquid tells everyone around you that you don’t know much about nutrition, health, or personal safety. Take your time, get plenty of good food at breakfast and lunch, and drink as much water as wine during the day, and you might survive to enjoy that fancy dinner you’ve been looking forward to. The restaurants near wineries share the same view on drunks as the staffs at tasting rooms: they’d prefer you spend your money elsewhere. You’re not nearly as charming as the effort to serve you requires.

8.  Know Thyself

Only you can decide how much wine to pour down your gullet. Your physical constitution is different from your friend’s. Maybe they have a great tolerance for alcohol, maybe you don’t. The wineries put dump/spit buckets on the counter for a reason. You’re there to learn about the wines, to taste them. You’re not supposed to act like you’ve gone to the country for a bender (see #2). If you get tipsy faster than your companions, dump away. No harm, no foul. Trying to keep up appearances or letting your friends tease you into “keeping up,” which is anything but that, is a regrettable move. And you will regret it at some point in the next 24 hours. Moderation is not a dirty word.

9.  The Other Fellow First

There is nothing better than walking into a tasting room and discovering that the place is empty and you will have the undivided attention of the guy pouring the wine. But once that Eden-like moment is trashed by the arrival of more customers, then it’s time to step aside, literally, and share your new best friend with the newcomers. It’s also a good time for a quick self-assessment on a few things like volume (“why is my wife always telling me I’m shouting?”) and whether you’re hogging the bar (“hey, I was here first; they can squeeze in over on the corner”).  And, if the room gets super busy, then it’s a good move to step away from the counter once the server has poured you your taste. (Ironically, at professional tastings, many folks in the trade have a hard time remembering this. Somehow they convince themselves that the winemaker wants to chat with only them, and not with any of the other 850 people standing impatiently behind them.) Wine is a team sport, and the big wins come when everyone works together.

10.  Really? I Didn’t Know That

As mentioned in yesterday’s piece, the staff members at most wineries know quite a bit about the wine they are pouring, as well as what goes into the growing of the fruit and the production of the wine. You can learn a lot if you listen, have a few questions to ask, and generally engage on a level unrelated to the rapid ingestion of fermented juices. While you might think that most wines and their producers are so similar that “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” the fact of the matter is that each winery has something unique about them. The more you can learn what’s special about each place you visit, or each wine you taste, the more you’re going to enjoy and remember your day. One of the great attractions of wine is the virtually infinite amount of information there is to learn. You can never know it all, despite those folks who act like they already do, and that is what makes the wine journey so rewarding. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. So when you go tasting, be prepared to receive more than what’s in the glass.

11.  Smaller IS Better

Every wine region has its “destinations,” those wineries that have become famous for one reason or another, whether it is their foundational influence in the region, their award winning wines, or the fact that their giant parking lot can hold the most buses. They’re destinations for hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, but should they be your destination? I vote no. I don’t know about you, but standing in lines, paying high prices for low pours, and getting herded about like cattle is not my idea of fun. Let some other schmucks fall for the false status of being able to say they went to the Planet Doom Winery on their vacation. If you’re about the wine, then do some research on those out-of-the way places, the small producers with the simple tasting rooms and not-so-simple wines, where you won’t stand shoulder to shoulder with most of the western hemisphere. Do you want to go wine tasting or tourist tussling? You decide.

12.  Follow The Right Recipe

This last tip is actually the first thing you need to think about when planning your day. To put together a great schedule and not provide for a driver, whether family member, friend, or hired professional, is a recipe for disaster. And, it makes you a fool. If you do persuade a relative or friend to be the driver, they can’t be a driver in name only, someone who doesn’t mind having a sip here and there, not unless they are sipping and spitting. A few sips turn into a few more, maybe a glass at lunch (“just this one”), and pretty soon your driver has morphed into another drinking buddy. The smartest move is to pool some funds and hire a car for the day. No fuss, no muss. Everyone pitches in and enjoys the communal benefit of not having to worry about safe transit. The cost of a limo is exponentially less expensive than a DUI, an insurance claim, or a tragic accident.  The Lone Star Café, a bygone NYC watering hole, had the motto “Too Much Is Never Enough.” Being a bar and restaurant, they were, of course, referring to the glories of excess, but the same applies to the glories of prudence and foresight. This most important ingredient in the recipe of your perfect day can’t be left out of the mix.

2 thoughts on “Odyssey, This Is Houston, part 2

  1. caryl

    love these tips! great to have as a reminder for all of us!! now to wrangle a tasting trip to Napa…!
    last time we were there we enjoyed making one of the meals (we chose a noon meal) a picnic at one of the wineries (V Satui had a lovely deli/gourmet area and nice grounds) instead of all restaurant meals. it gave us time to enjoy the land, the scenery and a bottle of wine with yummy breads and cheeses, etc… Just a thought for anyone lucky enough to be planning a trip!!!

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