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How to bluff your way through a wine tasting

Thursday 25 April 2013

When I was at university, I developed an ingenious little thing called the Seminar Nod. I did this because it quickly became apparent to me that I didn't know anything about anything. At school, I never had a problem speaking in class. But at uni, people were clever. They were cleverer than me, which I resented. They knew things. Lots of things. They knew how to wax lyrical about the film 'Bouncing in the Corner' by Bruce Nauman, a film which is LITERALLY a man bouncing in the corner for an hour. They weren't sitting there thinking "This has to be a fucking joke, surely?"

There was something pretty intimidating about seminars, especially. A small group of people in a small room, sitting in a circle and discussing their academic thoughts. The more I sat in them, the more I thought that I was never going to speak, ever again, in case that snide prick with the nice hair thought I was an idiot.

The thing is, you couldn't get away with not talking. And it was easy to get caught out, too. Those lecturers were sneaky.

If you nodded too vigorously at what someone said, trying to look all keen, they would ask you to elaborate on your thoughts. They'd say something like "Nicola, you seem to agree, do you care to add something?"

That, obviously, is not ideal.

The Seminar Nod is a gentler nodding system, designed to fool everyone into thinking that you know what's going on, you're on top of things, but you don't need to add a thing. Ideally, you look slightly confused, and then JUST as the lecturer starts to ask you if you're lost, you say "Aaaahhhhhh" in a loud voice, and nod furiously, like you've just figured it out.

Another tip is to say exactly what someone else has started to say, a microsecond after they say it, before laughing "I was about to say the same thing!"

All of this can be applied to wine tasting.

I wish I knew more about wine, I really do. I can never smell the different smells that people are talking about, and the only way I can describe it is "nice" or "really nice"

On my way out to Spain, I was sat next to a lovely man, who's a very clever wine journalist. I bombarded him with questions, and he was happy to give me the briefest of wine educations. We had lunch later that day (he was on the same trip as me, it's not that kind of story) and I couldn't wait for him to talk me through the wines.

The problem was, I still couldn't get it. I could appreciate everything he was saying, but I just couldn't come up with it on my own.

A few days later, I went to a few wine tastings. Eager to put my freshly forgotten education to the test, I started to drink.

And the wines? Were all very nice. They were white, and they were very nice.

If you find yourself at a wine tasting, or just drinking wine with someone you want to impress, I've come up with a few phrases that will help you bluff your way through.

1. The first thing to do is to swizzle your wine around the glass. This is fun to do, and it really does help the scents come forward. After a bit of a swizzle, look at the glass. If there are lines coming down the side of the glass, you can say "Mmm, great legs." Now, the legs thing was explained to me. But I don't think it stuck. Just say it anyway, and if someone contradicts you and says the wine actually has terrible legs, say "I know, I was being sarcastic" and roll your eyes.

2. Now stick your nose in the glass, take a big sniff, and look pensive. When you emerge, say something non-committal, like "Ooh, there's definitely something going on there" Try to use the word cacophony, because you don't often get to in life, and it's fun to say.

3. Ideally, someone else will speak first. Whatever they say, leap on it and expand. So if someone says something about berries, just say whatever springs to mind. The first strawberry on the bush on a midsummer's day, or something.

4. Now drink the thing. If it's nice, say so. If you want to keep things really simple, then generally a red smells like berries, and whites smell like citrus (a million sommeliers just convulsed in horror). If a red tastes really rich, say something about leather or tobacco (gack).

5. If you're really stuck, it's time to get obscure. So obscure that no one knows what the hell you're on about. Then they'll be scared that they don't get the same thing, and you'll win. You'll win the wine tasting. Here are some phrases you can use...

"Hmm, like the last vapours of a petrol tank in a Texas roadstop"

"I'm getting airs of a befuddled hedgehog"

"It tastes how I imagine Alan Rickman smells..."

But at the end of the day, you don't have to worry. You're not in a stuffy university seminar, you're drinking wine. And nothing can go wrong when you have a glass of wine in your hand.

So drink it back, enjoy it, and if you think it tastes really nice? Say that.

By the way, I would very much like to drink the wine that tastes how Alan Rickman smells.

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