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The taste of things to come

Published:  23 July, 2008

What kind of tasting do you find the most useful and why?
Generic, both annual and special, as well as the LIWSF. It's better to be focused on a single area or country. The LIWSF is good for networking and finding something new and exciting but not for business meetings.' - Philippa Carr MW, Asda

The truth is I only go (that is, can only afford to spend time going) to tastings that actually have some bearing on what I am working on at present and that I can therefore turn into some sort of income-generating activity. So it all depends on what I am working on. I recently went to a Chilean red blends and white new releases tasting, which was very useful since I was just completing an article on Chile. But if I hadn't been doing that, it wouldn't have been a good use of my time and I wouldn't have gone. The days of "general research" are over, sadly.' - Andrew Jefford, wine writer

How often do you find new wines to list at UK tasting events?

Variable. If the tasting coincides with a current review of that particular category, then the hit rate for new products found at

the tasting can be fairly good. Otherwise, it tends to be low.' - James Griswood, Thresher Group

Perhaps 20% of new listings come directly from a first tasting

at an organised event. They are more useful for meeting new producers who might be included on the next buying trip, and also for hoovering up all the small guys who you might not have time to visit on a trip. There is also a useful opportunity to meet people and to taste wine from all of the people who have been phoning up over the previous months, even if the conclusion is that the wines are not worth pursuing.' - Nathalie Winder, Waitrose

Which special features (themed tables, tutored tastings etc) do you find most useful?

I much prefer the chance to pour for myself and work at my own speed. I don't like being asked what I think of the wines because I find it impolite to tell someone their wines suck, and I don't like lying. I write them all up on the website anyway, so people will find out eventually. Tutored tastings are almost always a disaster unless it is by special people with their own special wines. Themed tables are a good idea, especially at generics.' - Jamie Goode, wine writer

The whole issue of producers being present is key here. Whenever producers are present, I think there should be a separate, self-pour, no-talking option, ideally in a different room altogether, with exactly the same wines so that you don't actually have to waste time exchanging vapid pleasantries with producers and can just focus on the tasting itself. Basically, I think that tasting/note-taking and talking/interviewing are two fundamentally different activities that I like to keep as separate as possible. I also always wish there were more blind-tasting options at organised tastings, since blind tasting is essential for unbiased assessment of wine quality, yet it's so

hard to get the opportunity to do it.' - Andrew Jefford

Themed tastings, such as style or varietal. But these need to be managed so that bottles are replaced and kept in order.

This is also the only way to concentrate on the wine. I always found the morning presentations that Hazell Murphy put on for the Australia Day Tastings really good - a useful contribution, but no one has managed to better them yet. Tutored tastings can be good, but they need to be really well researched and professionally presented. For the retailers who cannot offer tastings over two days (such as Majestic, Thresher, Tesco) please think about offering small follow-ups at head office; I would be prepared to travel. Wakefield and Leeds may need a little thought but could be arranged. The key special feature is spittoons - plenty of the big chunky ones on stands. The dinky splashy buckets should be sent to Room 101.' - Sarah Jane Evans, wine writer

What should tasting organisers avoid?

Inviting freeloaders; inviting anyone who smells of tobacco; having PR women who do nothing but file their nails; having tasting sheets with soft backs so you need support to scribble; placing wines so close to the edge of the table you cannot put your glass down (which you have to do in order to write); ambushing wine writers with the demand they must visit their stalls to taste an amazing wine; inviting press and public at the same time; playing music (muzak); placing spittoons so far from the taster you have to spend half your time walking to and fro betwixt; having insufficient spittoons; having whites too cold or too warm; having incorrect vintages, prices and distributor details on the tasting sheets; inviting wine writers who do nothing but hobnob with mates and talk loudly about their latest trip abroad; permitting visitors to use mobile phones in the tasting arena so everyone can hear how marvellously adept they are with modern technology; and allowing anyone in who is wearing aftershave or perfume.' - Malcolm Gluck, wine writer

Thinking they're so important that they can't be bothered to check what else is happening on the day and thereby putting on a tasting that you want to go to but can't because there's another tasting you're already committed to.

Providing tasting sheets with too little space to write notes, but also tasting sheets full of useless guff, and I quote from this year's crop: "clean juice after flotation", "bentonite fining", "earth and pad filtration", "the winery has state-of-the-art technology", "the grapes were processed into juice", "time-honoured traditions go hand in hand with cutting-edge technology", "Stelvin closures have been used to avoid potential cork contamination". Really? So that's what they're for!

Venues that are too small, too stuffy, have no natural light - or all three.

Offering sit-down lunches instead of a simple buffet, unless it's the Liberty tasting where the lunch is just right (something about Italians).

Inviting people with no intention of writing about the wines, so that the tasting becomes a freeloaders' free-for-all. I know we wine writers are spoilt rotten, but it does rather stick in the craw to see defunct members of the Circle of Wine Writers turn up at tastings, spend most of the time having lunch and then wobbling out with several clinking plastic bags under their arm (you know who you are!).

Encouraging representatives of wines to come up and volunteer their life history (unless they buttonhole the freeloaders, that is).' - Anthony Rose, wine writer

Oversubscribing at smaller venues. There is nothing more distracting than being bumped into while writing notes, or fighting for space around a spittoon. It is not conducive to making a proper assessment of a wine, and it makes discussing opportunities with producers very difficult.' - James Griswood Organisers

How do you measure the success of a tasting?

A successful tasting is more about the relevance of attendees rather than quantity, although that buzz factor is certainly important.' - Sally Bishop, Westbury Communications

For a generic like Chile's Annual Trade Tasting, the producers must feel that they have made an impression and must have renewed confidence to attack the market more effectively. And the buyers must come away with determination that Chile's

wines can enhance their business.' - Michael Cox, Wines of Chile

It's crucial to understand and agree with your clients the objectives of the event before you start.' - Bryony Wright, Proven PR

Three elements often play a part in showing the success of tastings: quality and type of visitors compared to the target group; number of visitors, length of stay and number of exhibitors visited; and positive feedback from the participants, both exhibitors and visitors.' - Chris Skyrme, Sopexa

We measure the success by the amount of networking done and reinforcing contacts and the chance to show new wines.' - John Smith, PLB

The success should be based on footfall and visibility of the right target audience.' - Dan Townsend, Constellation Europe

What are the common pitfalls in organising a tasting?

Unclean glasses, food smells, room temperature, getting commitment from key attendees.' - Bill Rolfe, United Wineries

Ensure there is no tricky dress code - I recall a tasting at a smart London club that imposed a collar-and-tie code that the organisers had failed to mention to the august press corps, few of whom are practised in the art of tying a Windsor knot.' - Michael Cox

The main problem we come across is the freeloader: there are still too many people who have managed to get on to the invite list who are not really there for a serious business purpose. We would prefer to see a smaller turnout of high-quality visitors than a room packed full of people to generate a buzz.' - Henry John, HwCg

Lack of attention to detail, overflowing spittoons, ineffective air conditioning, undesirables trying to gatecrash because they've seen the tasting advertised in the trade diary.' - Katharine O'Callaghan, Callaghan Communications

Trying to be too ambitious with venues, layout, catering, catalogues and so on. A wine tasting still has to consist of people standing behind tables, pouring out glasses of wine,

and organisers need to avoid the temptation to introduce "jazzed-up" versions that, although initially can look great, actually complicate the whole process of trying to get to a tasting table' - Venla Freeman, Wine Institute of California

Date clashes with other tastings are the biggest problem. While many of us do complete the trade diary, not all events are thus flagged.' - Chris Skyrme

The biggest pitfalls include clashing with another major tasting, organising a tasting at the wrong time of year, or on the wrong day of the week, and also thinking that everyone who has said they will turn up actually will, because they won't unless you remind them - more than once!' - Judy Kendrick, Judy Kendrick Marketing

What are the three most important ingredients of a successful tasting?

Quality of visitors - both buyers and press; quality of the wines; efficient organisation.' - Sally Bishop

The pertinence of the wines being shown to the UK market, and the target audience; great product; timing and accessibility.' - Chris Skyrme

All the right visitors; knowledgeable and interested importers; good natural light.' - Venla Freeman

Organisation, preparation, and getting the basics right - clean glasses, sufficient ice, enough spittoons, light, air, and interesting wine. Easy!' - Belinda Stone, HBJ

A good reason for hosting the event; a great story; interesting wines to illustrate the story.' - Sue Glasgow, Spear


Light, accessibility, and a day with no rain/hail/snow or terrorist bombings(!)' - Rosamund Hitchcock, R&R Teamwork