Fake it Till You Make it: How to Seem like a Wine Expert in 7 Steps

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Fake it Till You Make it: How to Seem like a Wine Expert in 7 Steps

  • AVLwinegeek

    Andy Hale has worked in the wine industry for over a decade, first as a server and later as a Sommelier for the 5-Star 5-Diamond rated Sanctuary Hotel at Kiawah Island, located...

There may come a time where you want to impress someone with your knowledge of wine. You may want to impress that client with your grasp of the wines of Bordeaux, or a date with the way you handle a wine list. I’m not judging!  

For some reason it seems like we associate wine knowledge with being a cultured, suave and generally cool individual. This, of course, is totally false. I know a lot about wine and am socially awkward, goofy, and crass!  But, if you ever feel the need to seem like a wine expert, there are some relatively easy ways to seem like one, without really knowing much about wine at all. These are some tips that I have put together to talk and act like a pro, which should fool all but the most wine savvy!

Sniff


Being a wine pro means that you are interested in evaluating  each wine you taste, not just glugging down a glass for the alcohol alone (we do that afterwards!). So resist the urge to drain your glass in a single gulp! Start off by smelling the wine, and really get your shnozz into the glass! Then drain your glass and repeat as necessary!

Swirl


Before you stick your beak into that glass of wine to give it a sniff, gently swirl the glass to aerate the wine and allow some of the shyer flavors to emerge. You should be able to smell more of the subtle flavors after doing this, and more importantly, you will look like a pro while you do it! Although don’t swirl too hard or you may end up wearing that Chablis instead of drinking it!

Spit


Ok I know this one will be a hard sell, but in some instances, spitting out the wine that you just put into your face without swallowing the deliciousness can actually make people think that you are in the “industry”. This won’t work in all situations however. For instance, spitting your wine out after tasting it at a fancy dinner party might be considered rude. But if you are visiting a winery, you could unlock some special “secret” wines that they only break out for the professionals! 

When wine pros come to taste wines to buy for their restaurant, shop, etc, they spit the wine out after they taste so that their senses remain sharp throughout wine evaluating process. If a winery sees you spitting, you are clearly not there to have fun. You could therefore potentially be in the wine business and might buy more of their wine than the general public if you end up liking them. The winery will see dollar signs and might usher you behind the scenes for a private tour, or even break open some of their reserve wines that most of their guests don’t get to try!

Use descriptions that don’t mean anything


After smelling or tasting your wine, wine people will sometimes try to describe what the wine tastes like using metaphors. Such as, “This wine smells of Rhubarb and lilac!” or “Cherries, leather and a hint of barnyard” or even “Band-aids, under-ripe Guava and an old pool-toy” . If you feel comfortable describing the way a wine smells or tastes, go ahead. Try to describe it using the fruit flavors you are experiencing as well as non-fruit flavors such as earth, minerals, flowers or anything else that it reminds you of. 
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However, if you feel intimidated by this, use descriptions that don’t really mean anything concrete. For me, I like to use adjectives that could describe a person, like “elegant”, “classy”, “whimsical”, “lively”, “expressive” or “cheerful”. It will be harder for someone to say you are wrong. Even if you go a little too far and start saying things like “This wine is really talkative”, “This Zinfandel is a complete moron” or “This is the kind of wine I’d like to bring home to meet my parents!” I think you will still get away with it most of the time.


Slurp


This one is tons of fun! Basically take all of the good table manners that your mom taught you and throw them all out the door. After you have taken a sip of wine, hold it in your mouth and gently breathe in through your teeth to aerate the wine and pull more of the flavors up to the smell receptors in the back of your nose. Try it now and I’ll stand by in case you need me to call an ambulance. Yeah, you might want to try this one out in the safety of your home first before you break it out in public. Also, this is perfectly acceptable for wine tasting events, although it might be considered a little rude in a fancy restaurant.

Pronouncing 


You may come across a lot of wines from a variety of different countries. France, Germany and Italy all have very difficult wine names and regions to pronounce. As a wine pro, you will be expected to pronounce these goofy words authentically and accurately, as if you had grown up in that tiny, obscure Northern Italian village yourself. Learning all of these in a short amount of time is impossible. You are going to have to fake it. When I first started Somming (I just made that word up!), I was still a little green and was faced with this problem on a regular basis. But people were relying on my suggestions for $500 bottles of wine. I had to learn how to step up my pronunciation game! 

When trying to pronounce words that you are unsure of, take a page from my book. Pronounce the words in a vaguely foreign-sounding way, kind of like a villain in a spy flic that is showing on basic cable. Bonus points if you can fake the accent from the country the wine is from a little. If the wine is German, do a Schwarzenegger impression, if it’s French, sound vaguely like Pepe Le Pew. And most importantly, sell it with the confidence of a serial killer! Make eye contact almost aggressively with the person who you are speaking to and then go to utterly suave, confident and unflappable. If you sell it hard enough, even people who are actually from that country will think, maybe that’s in the southern dialect?

Know facts about an obscure region


This one is a little risky. Sell this one too hard and people will go from “Man, he really knows a lot about wine”, to “God, this guy is such a pretentious ass-hat” faster than you can say Chateauneuf-du-pape! 

Take ten minutes and memorize a few facts about an obscure wine region, the more obscure the better. Learn where it is located, learn what the climate is like, learn a few of the grapes that they are known for, and generally what the wines taste like, and then next time you are wanting to sound like a wine-pro, bust it out! 

For example, someone asks you what you think of the expensive Napa Valley Cabernet that they just poured you. Instead of panicking, just respond with something like “Not bad. I’ve mostly been drinking wines from Jura recently, up in the mountains to the East of France. Rugged, funky, oxidized wines that taste like old apricots, with kind of a Sherry-like finish. You should really check those out.” You might run the risk of sounding like a snob, but people will definitely be impressed or even intimidated by your wine knowledge! But you might lose some friends in the process. Like I said, use this one at your own risk!

You can use this one defensively also. Suppose that someone catches you in a mistake. You make a comment on how you love the Pinot Noirs coming out of Bordeaux these days, and someone yells “Aha! They don’t grow Pinot Noir in Bordeaux!” They have caught you red-handed! Just play it off, shrug and say something to the effect of “Bordeaux is so lame, I barely drink it anymore. I’m much more into the wines coming out of Slovenia these days.” Boom! You are back in the game!

So keep in mind, I would never actually suggest acting like this in public. In my opinion there is too much snobbery in wine culture in general. Wine is just beer made out of grapes, and doesn’t have to be any more snobby or refined than that. Whether you know a lot about wine or can barely tell a white wine from a red, you will still get the same amount of enjoyment out of drinking it!