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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

I know precious little about beer. Aside from some pedestrian lingo about lagers and IPAs and plebeian fermentation knowledge, I’m pretty clueless—and as someone who is an “expert” about wine, this is a sad and shameful fact.

The truth is, when I was a kid, everyone around me drank Budweiser or Kokanee out of a can. When I got into college, Sam Adams was the height of beer-drinking sophistication; wanting to be a “cool kid,” I did my best to choke it down. But I just didn’t understand what all the fuss was about: It was bitter and ashy and gave me cottonmouth—not exactly what I wanted in a nice, cold beverage.

As time went on, and the craft-beer scene started to explode, I continued my efforts to drink “serious” beer and really did my damnedest to “get it” … but the more time passed, the worse the beer got. I really couldn’t figure out why beer stopped being refreshing and drinkable—as if brewers were in some kind of arms race to see who could create the most-bitter, hoppiest, most-marijuana-tasting brew in the land. Or as the kids today say, “that beer is dank.” Nowadays, “dank” means good. If you’re like me, and use terms like “nowadays” and refer to the next generation as “kids,” you might have thought that “dank” referred to a stinky, moldy cave. Nope. Apparently we’re hoping our beer is dank.

So here I am, a sommelier in Southern California, where I find myself surrounded by friends who are immersed in—and very prominent figures in—the SoCal beer culture. I no longer want to be a beer dummy. To this end, Brett Newton—the desert’s pre-eminent cicerone and the beer-writer extraordinaire for this newspaper—agreed to a little education exchange: I would select some wines for him to taste, and he’d describe how he felt about them; in return, he would choose a few beers for me to sip, and I’d offer my two cents.

Here’s how it went: We convened on a Sunday at a friend’s house—with wine and beer and plenty of greasy, alcohol-absorbing foods in tow.

The first beer I tasted is one of Brett’s personal favorites when he wants something easy-drinking and quaffable (although I’m pretty sure he’s never used the word “quaffable”; he’s too manly for that): the Allagash White Belgian-style wheat beer. As soon as I stuck my nose in the glass, I loved the aromas of coriander seeds, dried orange peel and cloves. There was this underlying scent of ripe bananas, a little pine resin, and licorice—and I loved the higher amount of carbonation. It’s a beer that’s savory and spicy, and it made my taste buds tingle, which is always fun. But after a few sips, I could sense my mouth was beginning to dry out. Oh god, it’s happening. Here comes the cottonmouth, and I’m only on beer one. I started wondering if anyone would notice if I went and got a Modelo out of the fridge.

We tasted the Effective Dreams by Modern Times next. This beer is double-dry-hopped, which terrified me. I could only assume that “double-dry-hopped” means “skunky weed in a glass.” Before I smelled it, I had visions of this beer reminding me of a bad high school party, and assumed it would taste like the day after. At first, all I could smell was sweaty armpits. Seriously, the beer was really stinky. But much to my surprise … I liked it. I liked it in the same way I like South African wine that smells like mangy animals and Band-Aids. I liked that it had layers of fresh and bright citrus fruit that reminded me of a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Once I got past the initial sweet-sweat stench, there were loads of flavors of pineapple and mango—and much to my pleasure, it was thirst-quenching and even a little juicy. It didn’t strip my palate with its double dry hops at all. My name is Katie, and I like double-dry-hopped beer! Who knew?

Next up was the Rodenbach “Alexander” sour from Flanders. To my knowledge, I’ve never had a Flemish beer—but at the recent Craft Beer Weekend at the Ace Hotel, I did experience a few sours, and I really loved them. As an acid hound with wine, I find the tart, vibrant flavors of sour beers to be right up my alley. This particular beer is a red ale fermented with macerated cherries and aged in oak foudres (read: really big barrels)—and it’s quite possibly the most perfect beer for a wine-lover. Right away, I noticed the carbonation was light, and the bubbles were fine, like those in a Champagne, due to the process of bottle conditioning: The bubbles are created from trapped carbon dioxide, just like they are in a bottle of your favorite high-end sparkling wine. I noticed pronounced aromas of bitter coffee and dark chocolate, and a touch of burnt milk. I’ve noticed that the initial aromas I get from these beers are a little … vomitous. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way (if it’s possible to not be pejorative while using the word “vomitous”). I’ve just realized that there is an introductory component on the nose of some of these beers that I need to get past before I can begin to appreciate the secondary flavors and aromas. At one point, Brett was describing the making of this beer as “gooey” and “stringy,” so I guess that solidifies my point.

We moved on to a beer that I was incredibly excited about: The Bruery Terreux Bourgogne Noir 2017 is hardly a beer at all! This is what they call an American wild ale, fermented with pinot noir grape must (juice) and aged in French oak puncheons. Intentionally, there is zero carbonation, which not only makes it look like a full-fledged pinot noir; to my delight, it makes it smell like one, too. On the palate, it offered up more beer flavors, but the overall wine components took over, with cola and Bing cherries dominating. I tasted the telltale bitter-coffee component that I associate with ales, but it was neither dominating nor overpowering. This definitely wasn’t wine, but I would be hard-pressed to call it a beer, either. It was the most unusual and thought-provoking beverage I’ve had in a long time.

Lastly, we tasted what I can only assume is the pinnacle of beer hedonism: a 2017 imperial stout called Black Tuesday from The Bruery. This bottle of brew comes in at a whopping 19.5 percent alcohol by volume. For a girl who relishes wine that comes in less than 13 percent ABV, this might as well be a glass of gasoline. Aged in bourbon barrels for 10 months, this beer resembles an oloroso sherry with its thick, burnt-caramel smell. There is a honey and hot-tar sensation on the palate, followed by a ton of Hershey’s milk chocolate. Honestly, I couldn’t tell if I liked it … there is definitely a dessert wine quality to it. I couldn’t drink a whole glass of Black Tuesday, but much to my surprise, a few sips are unexpectedly pleasant. I don’t care for the heat from the high alcohol that resonates out of the glass, but the flavors are harmonious, layered and balanced.

All in all, I have to give kudos to Brett, who curated a selection of beers that were perfect for a sommelier. I realized after this tasting that I had been painting some beers with a broad brush: I assumed that all IPAs and craft beers were plagued with a cannabis, pine-resin, skunky taste—just like people assume all chardonnay is oaky, buttery and laden with cloying caramel. The education I received from Brett was priceless, and I don’t feel like such a beer dummy anymore. Thank you, Brett, for tolerating my absurd descriptions and patiently answering all my questions.

I highly suggest you make your way to Coachella Valley Brewing and have a few pints with Brett. You might get drunk—but you’ll definitely learn something.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

When my wine counterpart in these pages, Katie Finn, suggested that we pull a beverage version of Trading Places—where she curated a list of wines for me to taste while I returned the favor with a list of beers—my first thought was, “I’m clearly the Eddie Murphy in this movie analogy, right?”

And then I thought it would be a wonderful way for me—a wine-eschewing philistine who thinks beer is far more exciting—to expand my horizons and sample a wine list curated by a sommelier. After months of trying to coordinate my weird schedule with hers, we finally got together at the house of a mutual friend. We also invited some of our friends to help (and in my case, unload some of their awesome beer cellars for the occasion)—and then we proceeded to try to impress each other.

When putting together my list for Katie, I wanted to showcase one of beer’s greatest strengths: its diversity of styles and flavors. This is trickier than it may seem to those who know how vast beer’s flavor spectrum can be. What I didn’t know is that she had the same thing in mind for me.

Trigger warning: What I’m about to do with these descriptions might make wine connoisseurs cringe. I ask for your forgiveness in advance.

Birichino Malvasia 2018 Bianca: This is a white from Monterey County. Once I got over my usual reaction to white wine (“uh, yeah ... smells like white wine!”), I started picking up on a mild spiced-pineapple aroma. Following that down the gullet (offended yet, wine people?) were floral aromas like rose and jasmine. What I really appreciated about the experience was the acidic, dry finish. I’m not a fan of sweeter wines or ciders; I always enjoy the ones that jump off the palate and don’t cloy in the aftertaste. The touch of warmth in the back of it all didn’t hurt, either. We were off to a decent start.

Forge Cellars 2015 Les Alliés Dry Riesling: I know Riesling is a German grape that makes a white wine, but my knowledge essentially ends there. What I learned from this one, out of the Finger Lakes in New York, was that wines from this grape can be very pleasant—with oak, citrus, orange blossom and another dry, acidic finish.

Sans Liege Groundwork Grenache Blanc: Paso Robles is no stranger to me, because of Firestone Walker’s magnificent brewery and invitational festival that I attend every year. (See my column about my trip last year for more on that.) But Paso Robles is primarily a wine region, even if I’ve successfully (and unconsciously) ignored any of its products until now. This had a floral, alcohol aroma up front with a warming, sweet vanilla finish. It was slightly acidic at the end. It was not my jam.

B Vintners Black Bream Pinot Noir: Now to the color of wine I’ve enjoyed the most when I’ve experienced wine: red. This South African pinot had aromas and flavors of oak and blackberry cheesecake, along with a slight smokiness, a dry finish and some tannic astringency (a drying sensation on the palate). I can only imagine this would pair very well with a cheesecake, but I will defer to Mrs. Finn on that.

Tommasi Rafael 2016 Valpolicella Classico Superiore: As a side note, if beer names ever get this protracted, I’m going to switch professions. As for the wine: This was an Italian dark fruit bomb, with prunes, plums, a hint of cherries—and a dry finish. It’s almost as if she deliberately picked drier wines in anticipation of my aversion to sweet drinks.

Bodegas Atalaya Alaya Tierra 2015: This was the show-stopper for me and my friend Jose. I’ll just show you what I wrote down as I tasted it, verbatim: “Jammy nose. Blackberry and currant. But the first taste is sweet. Then wood. Then hugely herbal. Big sage flavor. Tobacco. I would almost guess this was not oak, but some more exotic Brazilian wood instead.” I was floored—and kind of sad—that no one had showed me a wine with this much character and range before now. Katie generously gave me the remainder of the bottle to take home—and you’d better believe I finished it.

We also covered an “orange” wine, and I took notes regarding the reason it is called that. (It’s white wine, but the skins are kept in during fermentation, like with reds or rosés … but why have a beer guy explain this when you can read Katie’s illuminating column on this subject instead?) Unfortunately, I apparently neglected to make any notes of the bottle that she opened. Hey, I was drinking wine AND beer. What do you want from me? Professionalism?

My main takeaways from this experience were: If you ever get a chance to have a talented and thoughtful sommelier choose a wine flight for you, definitely step on board, even if you’re normally not a wine-drinker; and wine is not a restricted by its limited ingredients, as I mistakenly thought. The Alaya Tierra proved that to me, and I’ll be interested to see what more wine can accomplish as it strikes out into uncharted and nontraditional areas more and more. Who knows? One day, you may find me writing a wine column. But it won’t be this day.

Thanks, Katie! Let’s do this again.

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Beer

Everyone I know in the wine industry has had their own personal “Ah-ha!” moment—when wine became more than just a classy way to get drunk, when we went from simply enjoying the way the wine tastes to becoming consumed with every aspect of it.

Where was it grown? How was it grown? How did the winemaker ferment it? How long was it in a barrel, and what kind of barrel was it, and how big was the barrel?! That’s the moment we realized the wine was alive, has a personality and wants to be understood.

For me, that moment happened when I was in college. I applied for a job at a prominent steakhouse while going to school; I knew the difference between white and red, but that was about the extent of my knowledge. Thankfully, this steakhouse took a chance on me and informed me that if I was to keep the job, I would need to study the wine list and service procedures inside and out, and pass a test. Being the obliging little student that I was, I hit the books. I studied the regions, the grapes, the soils and the different price points. I bought every different (cheap) bottle of wine from Vons that I could afford and practiced opening them every night with a steady hand. I was determined to master the fine art of pouring without dripping on my makeshift tablecloth, which at the time was nothing more than an old dish rag. The more I immersed myself into the wine world, the more infatuated I became.

At the end of my training, I sat down to take the test I had so diligently prepared for … and I passed with flying colors. The reward for my hard work was a post-shift training meal with the managers. They ordered a few beautiful steaks and a couple of mouth-watering side dishes so I could experience the menu and better describe the flavors to the guests. As the chef approached the table to explain his creations to the neophyte I was, he asked the bartender for a specific bottle of wine. Within minutes, the cork was pulled, and the glasses were filled with my “Ah-ha!”

I was immediately struck with herbs and flowers and spice. There were beautiful aromas of cherry and figs intertwined with pepper and sweet cigar. As we sat and dined, I listened to Chef describe the food, but all I could think about was the wine—how, with every sip, I tasted something new. The wine was constantly evolving in my glass, and just when I thought I had it figured out, like a chameleon, it changed on me. I had never tasted anything like it.

That was the moment I knew this was going to be more than just a job to get me through school. This was going to be my career. A lot of years, and a few post-nominals later, I managed to prove my very Irish family wrong: You can, in fact, get paid to drink.  

One of the most frequent questions I am asked by budding wine enthusiasts is how they, too, can become a sommelier. The short answer is: You don’t. The common misconception is that sommeliers are the only body of wine knowledge out there, but the Court of Master Sommeliers is solely designed for those in the restaurant industry. This is a good thing: No average wine consumer should ever be subjected to the nerve-racking, hair-falling-out stress levels associated with the service practical. The blind tastings and exam are enough to give someone night terrors.

Much like the Court of Master Sommeliers, the Society of Wine Educators also has its own accreditation program where you can become a Certified Specialist of Wine and ultimately a Certified Wine Educator. These exams are incredibly difficult, not to mention expensive; while you don’t have to be in the industry to qualify for these tests, it really doesn’t make much sense for the average consumer to hold such a title. 

But … chin up, my budding wine-lovers! There are still lots of ways you can enhance your knowledge and become a credible wine consumer.

If you’ve truly found your passion and want to delve deeper into that beautiful glass of “Ah-ha!” the No. 1 resource I recommend is the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (wsetglobal.com), or WSET for short. This is the perfect information hub for someone who loves wine socially, but wants to take it more seriously—or perhaps even begin their own wine career. The trust has several levels that cater to individual wine prowess that get increasingly difficult as your knowledge progresses. You’ll need to commit to driving into Orange County, Los Angeles or San Diego to attend live classes and tastings, but there are online options available as well.

Speaking of online options, if you want to gain your information digitally, the Wine Spectator School (winespectator.com/school) and the Napa Valley Wine Academy (napavalleywineacademy.com) are fantastic alternatives to live classes. They both feature a ton of content and different classes specializing in specific regions or areas of knowledge.

Locally, there are a few places where you can go to taste and learn. While you won’t receive any credentials for attending these classes, they are easy and fun ways to expand your palate and gain a little more knowledge.

I recently went to the Bordeaux tasting at Total Wine and More in Palm Desert. For a meager $20, we tasted eight wines covering both the left and right bank, and even had a beautiful charcuterie spread prepared by The Real Italian Deli. Other than the fact that the last red wine we tasted had cork taint, and they served me warm Sauternes, the wines were decent, and the information was a pretty comprehensive Wine 101. They threw in a little humor here and there, and all in all, it was a pleasant way to spend the evening.

In La Quinta, yours truly hosts wine education afternoons once a month at Cooking With Class (cookingwithclasslq.com). We taste five to six wines, accompanied by artisanal cheeses, in a casual setting. The tastings usually last about 90 minutes and are designed to be fun and informative. I focus on food pairings, the stories behind the wines and unique varietals.

Lastly, you can always seek out private wine-tasting groups via Facebook, localwineevents.com, or your local wine shop. I know that Desert Wine and Spirits (desertwinesandspirits.com) in Palm Springs has great tastings once a week, and Dead or Alive Bar (deadoralivebar.com) always has unique, palate enhancing wines open to try. Desert Wine Shop on 111 (desertwineshop.com) also hosts regular wine get-togethers that are informal and social.

Other advice: Keep a wine journal. Take tasting notes. When you taste a wine, close your eyes; stick your nose in that glass; and inhale deeply. Be present and mindful, because wine is the greatest time machine there is.

The wine I tasted that fateful night was a 2001 Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf du Pape. I will never forget it, and it will always be my first love.

Your “Ah-ha!” moment is waiting … go taste it.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

When I took my first sommelier exam 15 years ago (gasp!), it’s safe to say that most people didn’t know what a sommelier was. In fact, I once told someone I was a sommelier, and not being familiar with that word, he was convinced I was trying to tell him I was Somalian.

Fast-forward over the years, and we’ve seen the emergence of the foodie culture, the globalization of wine, and the idea of a sommelier going from obscurity to the mainstream. Hell, there’s even a movie that put this odd little profession of nerds in the Hollywood spotlight.

But even with sommeliers garnering more recognition and even a little notoriety, I can’t help but wonder if people really know what it is that we do. What does it mean to be a sommelier? Sometimes I think even people in our industry have forgotten what our purpose is.

For me, being a somm has always translated to wine education, and because I’ve made it my mission to get as many people drinking as much weird wine as possible, I always encourage questions at my tastings—and I get lots and lots of them. In my mind, they’re all valid (No, really!), because to me, there’s nothing worse than a self-proclaimed "wine expert" who won’t ask questions about what he doesn’t know, because he thinks he should already know. However, some questions are better than others. Dare I say … some are more intriguing than others?

At a recent wine dinner, I had the opportunity to answer one of my all-time-favorite questions. I was blabbing on and on about quality to value ratios, and seeking out great wines for the price, and finding "hidden gems" when I heard this:

So, do you think a wine like Screaming Eagle is worth its price?

I love these questions so much, because they really don’t have an answer. On one hand, yes, if you have the means and desire to spend $4,000 on a bottle of wine that you will probably never drink, because chances are, you’re looking at this as a collectible—much like someone buying a vintage car that they will never drive. It’s not about practicality or function; it’s about owning something very few people can lay claim to.

On the other hand … no way. The very idea is absurd, especially given that wine does, indeed, have a shelf life. The whole purpose of wine is enjoyment, and if you are purchasing a bottle of Screaming Eagle, and plan on pulling the cork and gleefully sipping it to your heart’s content, could it possibly bring you more joy than if the bottle cost you $400? Or $40? Many would argue … no.

But as far as a sommelier is concerned, the answer should be: “Who cares?” The truth is, wines like Screaming Eagle, Harlan and Opus One bore me. There is no denying they are exceptional; they are rare, perfectly crafted, shining examples of what Napa is capable of, and anyone who buys a bottle should expect nothing less. If you’re spending $500 on a bottle of California cabernet, there’s no crap-shoot involved: You can pat yourself on the back and rest assured the wine you’ve purchased will be stellar. If I recommend a bottle of Cliff Lede’s Poetry, Dalla Valle’s Maya or Shafer’s Hillside Select, have I really done my job … or do these wines just make my job easy?

I like to think that a sommelier’s purpose is to do what the consumer cannot: We are the flavor-finders, the value-hunters, and the detective of wine secrets. We know how to identify a great bottle of wine, from a great producer, who’s using quality fruit under strict confidentiality from a famous vineyard. Maybe it’s a wine from a region that’s up and coming. Maybe it’s a varietal that is making a comeback or fell into obscurity. Maybe it’s a side project from a famous winemaker who started a new label just for the fun it. Our job is to find the wine that’s $20, but drinks like it’s a $75 bottle. Our job is to find your perfect bottle of wine.

The beauty is: Those wines are everywhere!

The Fortnight cabernet, made by Napa legend Charles Hendricks, which we featured at our wine dinner at Cooking With Class, is a perfect example. Charles has made wine everywhere from Viader to Regusci, and now makes this fun side project in Calistoga with his friends at T-Vine. It’s labeled “California,” because from one year to the next, the fruit sources will be different. The varietal blend will be different. But the outcome is consistent: It’s a wine less than $20 that is downright delicious and a crowd-pleaser.

The Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti is the best wine deal going at Costco as of this writing. I have a case of this in my “cellar” at all times. This is one of the most notable producers in Piedmont, Italy, and this Barbera is juicy and ripe, with the perfect amount of acidity, body and fruit. This is the epitome of the Tuesday-night-with-homemade-spaghetti wine. Did I mention it’s $8.99 a bottle?

How about a deliciously drinkable pinot noir from Macedonia? I’m willing to bet you’ve never had a wine from Macedonia before. I recently grabbed a bottle of the Macedon pinot noir from Whole Foods and spent $15. I went home and drank it with some prosciutto and a triple-cream brie. ’Nuff said.

One more insider tip: If you want the best bang for your buck, make a beeline right for the Spanish wines. Spain really is a revelation in the world of wine these days. If you are a fan of the more classic European style, look for a Rioja. The ones from CVNE (pronounced COO-nay) will never disappoint you. If you like more fruit-forward, ripe and bold styles, à la California, the grenaches from Priorat or a lovely mencia from Bierzo are right up your alley. The Palacios family is my go-to for both regions! Are you looking for light and crisp refreshing wines for a warm evening? You can’t go wrong with a fresh, peachy albariño from the Rias Baixas (REE-ahs By-shas), or a zippy, citrusy rueda made from Verdelho. And don’t even get me started on sparkling wine. Remind me again why everyone is drinking Italian prosecco when Spanish cava is better AND cheaper?

Being a sommelier is all about the love of wine. We’re here so the consumer doesn’t get ripped off (ideally). We are matchmakers. We find the right wine for the right person. We save you time, money and the frustration of another disappointing bottle. We offer up wildly new and exciting bottles from grapes you didn’t even know existed. And we will happily give you your security-blanket bottle of cabernet.

I am lucky. I love what I do. Now, sit back, relax … and just trust me.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is currently studying with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. When she's not hitting the books, you can find her hosting private wine tastings and exploring the desert with her husband and two children. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

One of the best perks of being a sommelier is that I get paid to drink. In fact, it’s expected that I drink—specifically, that I taste everything I can, as often as I can. And I happily oblige.

This beautiful thing called wine is an ever-changing and ever-evolving experience, and the only way to truly understand it is to immerse yourself in it. For those of us in the hospitality industry here in the desert, this time of year means it’s time to put on the crash helmet and dive in. Every week for the next month, there will be a ballroom somewhere in the valley filled with people sampling wine being poured by eager suppliers hoping to gain a spot on a wine list or a placement on a bottle-shop shelf.

I’m fresh off tasting No. 2. As I made my way from table to table, I couldn’t help but notice how many wine civilians (aka non-industry folks) were there. In the past, I was usually the person behind the table, focused on salesmanship and presenting my wines in the best light possible. The whole point of my being there was to sell wine. Sure, it was easy to tell who was there as a buyer, and who just snuck in for the free food and hooch, but it really didn’t matter. As long as people were trying my wine and being respectful, I didn’t care. This time around, however, I am on the other side of the table.

Now that I have a much broader view, I feel compelled to suggest a few dos and don’ts for trade-tasting novices.

I’m always the first one to tell people to drink what they like. However, this rule does not apply at a tasting—especially when the wine-tasting is free! This defeats the whole point. In fact, the point is to taste what you don’t know. Tastings offer a wonderful opportunity to sample wines before we commit to them, and an even greater opportunity to learn about them. Sometimes the people behind the table are winemakers or principals; more often, they are reps or distributors, but whoever is pouring, he or she is tied to the winery in one capacity or another and offers valuable information that you can’t get anywhere else. At every tasting, there is sure to be wine you’ve never had or perhaps never heard of. The standout wine for me at the last tasting was a vermentino from Corsica, and it was glorious!

I was also able to do a side-by-side comparative tasting of a sauvignon blanc—both from the same producer, and the same vineyard, but one was in a bottle, and one was canned. The education I received from the rep on their canning procedure, laws, regulations and what they’ve learned via trial and error was the highlight of the day for me. This is the reason trade tastings exist. However, while the concept seems logical enough, it never fails: People go right for what they know, zeroing in on their security-blanket brand like a heat-seeking missile. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll taste familiar wines, too. Things change; winemakers move around; vintages vary; vinification techniques improve and evolve. The difference is I yearn to taste the unknown, so I taste everything from everywhere.

So here are a few of my cardinal rules for wine tastings. Consider this your condensed guide for how not to look like “that guy”:

1. This is not a buffet. You do not, under any circumstances, help yourself to the wine on the table. Even if the pourer winked at you and laughed at your “I said my pinot is bigger!” joke, that does not give you permission to fondle the bottles.

2. Yes, you should be spitting. Those buckets on the table are there for a reason and should be used often. I know, I know … it’s a crime to spit out all that delicious wine, but tastings are, for the most part, a professional event and not the place to get commode-hugging drunk. But it never ceases to amaze me how many people I see stumbling around these events—even industry veterans. Which reminds me: Unless you want to wind up looking like you’re wearing a souvenir T-shirt from a Grateful Dead concert, it’s best to avoid wearing white and/or anything silk. Because, ya know, there’s a drunk guy with a glass of red wine stumbling around.

3. Be an information-gatherer. I get it; you read Wine Spectator. You visit Napa, Sonoma, Paso and Santa Barbara all the time. Your best friend is a winemaker. Still, you do not know more than the person pouring the wine. This is their business, and they want to share it with you. Let them.

4. If you don’t have anything nice to say, zip it. I used to joke around about this all the time, telling people that I’m not the winemaker, so it won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t like the wine. But the truth is … it’s kinda rude. Even if the rep didn’t make the wine, he or she is there representing it. Also, any negative comment you make might affect the person standing next to you who just declared this wine to be their absolute most favorite thing in the whole wide world.

5. Keep an open mind. If there is a pinotage open, try it. If you see wines from Romania there, try them. Had a bad experience with riesling when you were 17? Try it again. No, you’re not going to like everything, but you will surprise yourself. There is no better opportunity to nurture your sense of adventure and take a walk on the wild side, wine-wise.

So whether you’re wine-tasting at a private country club, at a restaurant, or sneaking into a trade tasting, always remember: Wine is about exploration and discovery. Now go get out of your wine rut, and get tasting!

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is currently studying with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. When she's not hitting the books, you can find her hosting private wine tastings and exploring the desert with her husband and two children. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine