Last year, I placed a winning bid on what I presumed would be a glamorous opportunity to taste wines with Darrell Corti, renowned wine connoisseur of Corti Brothers grocery store. Envisioning a grape-sipping soiree, I met Darrell at the store one cold evening in January.
For years, I have chided any wine buyers who tell me of their “work” in tasting wine. “That must be difficult, to do such ‘research,’” I would tease, picturing them swirling and quaffing glass after glass of the delectable grape.
Boy, was I wrong. Standing in a refrigerator-cold, sparse area behind the store, we worked our noses, tongues and brains for more than three hours. Plastic-covered “dump buckets” were set beneath a bare table on which stood 71 bottles of different reds, with a batch of 30-odd whites waiting in the wings.
Seven others joined us for the tasting, including Donal Smith and Rick Mindermann, longtime Corti Brothers food and wine pros. Instructions were simple: Sample the wines by swirling, sniffing and sipping, but don’t swallow. (To me, not swallowing is the equivalent of visiting an art gallery while blindfolded.)
The process of tasting and spitting while referring to the list of wines we scored was laborious, requiring focus and the ability to expectorate precisely.
The red wines widely varied in taste; we worked our way through domestic Syrahs and Merlots, then Pinot Noirs and Zinfandels. Next in line were Italian wines crafted from different grapes—Nebbiolo, Brunello and Barbera—followed by French Burgundies and Bordeaux. We then dove into the white-wine segment. I had thought only a couple of whites would appeal, so I was surprised at several delicious varieties from Germany and Spain.
My throat continually begged me to swallow and enjoy the full taste, but I refrained. And while daunting, challenging and tiring, the tasting experience was enjoyable for me, despite my realization that my sensory perception was not at the level of these pros.
Fortunately, a pot of gold awaited at the end of our rainbow of wine. Upon completing our tasting task, Darrell boxed up a couple dozen favorites and treated us to dinner at The Waterboy restaurant. There, a few friends joined us, and we were (finally!) able to sit, relax and re-taste several wines. Chef/owner Rick Mahan created magical dishes that enhanced the wines, while Darrell and the crew determined which wines to offer to their customers.
I have a newfound respect for wine tasters. It is hard, demanding work! At dinner, it was a real treat to be able to actually consume the wines—although now I can spit with the best.