March 16: One of the most important aspect of the Tuscan Tastings and similar programmes where one can taste hundreds of wines, is the opportunity of tasting wines with dinner, giving the visitor the opportunity to see how they match different local foods, writes Subhash Arora who feels this is an important aspect where Chianti docg and the 11 Regional Appellations who joined this Promotion lately, have missed out so far
Till a few years ago the Tuscan Tasting used to be a programme where the Consortia of Chianti Classico, Montepulciano and Montalcino used to run the tastings, one after the other. San Gimignano used to charm several visitors by dove-tailing a visit to the town known for its Art and Architecture as much as the Vernaccia white wines but has become a part of the Tasting since the last few years. Traditionally, it used to have a gala dinner so the opportunity to taste several wines with dinner was always a part of the ritual. Then it was tied with the Tuscan Tasting and instead of organising it a day earlier it was included in the visit between Florence and Montepulciano.
The two new entrants have been Chianti and the regional appellations which have a lot to offer and not easy to taste all wines from the hundreds of labels . Unfortunately, there is no dinner for both these events and one misses out a lot on tasting thesewines with food in a relaxed atmosphere.
Etiquettes for drinking wine at such Dinners
Typically there are 100+ wines at such dinners. How do you select, order and drink the wines? At most such dinners the hosts plan it so a couple of producers sit at the table with the visitors so they may be able to interact with the guests. It’s a good etiquette to start first with their wines so that they may tell the table about the winery, the wines, their characteristics and how it might be special.
Generally, there is a spittoon kept in the middle for the table in which more than a sip-ful may be downloaded at will and it is not considered bad manners. But unlike in regular tastings when you are expected to throw out every drop of liquid you take in, you are not supposed to spit into the spittoon at a dinner table. Take small enough sip and after tasting it, take it down the gullet slowly.
By all means, look at what you like to try and tell the sommelier to bring those bottles. Normally, you would like to try the lighter ones first- for instance in Chianti Classico-you would start with a young Classico, moving on to the older vintage, then Riserva and finally Gran Selezione. There are a few odd bottles which are really old- say in the 1990s and 1980s. Be sure to check these out first from the wine list. If you follow the tasting order, you will certainly find that by the time you order them, they would have been polished off. It took me a few visits to become wiser.
Similarly for Montepulciano it ought to be Rosso followed by Vino Nobile. In Montalcino, there is that Rosso again, with which you would start a formal dinner at your home. But no, if you wanted to try a Brunello Riserva, it better be in your earlier order list-or you would find it evaporating before you think of ordering it.
And here is another unwritten rule- you never get drunk drinking these wines- drink slowly, drink moderate sips and space out the sips. I have yet to see a really drunk at any dinner table- even after 20 or 30 or even 40 labels; I reckon one can go through between 20-30 labels in an evening over dinner with small sips.
Chianti Classico and others with Dinner
Chianti Classico is very well organised to handle its dinners for the visitors. After a few years’ break from the sit down dinners, it was back to sit down at the round tables with pre-selected wines over 200 in number, this time in February 2018. There were several wines from practically all the producers participating- Chianti Classico 2016 and earlier editions, Riserva and Grand Selezione. Never mind there were no white wines but it helped showcase several wines which might have remain hidden otherwise for a long time.
San Gimignano is the town one visits after Florence Tasting of Chianti Classico. Known more for its white Vernaccia di San Gimignano, there were over 60 wines at the gala dinner. We had a couple of producers sitting with us on the table and we could taste around 6 of their wines before moving on to the wines of other producers from the wine list.
Same story was repeated at Montepulciano next day where we had dinner at the Fortezza and over 150 bottles welcoming us at the dinner- we tasted several Rosso di Montepulciano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, followed by the dessert wines made by practically each of the producer.
The climax of tasting was at Montalcino where over 200 Brunello, Rosso and Riservas were available freely. The wine list had numbers assigned to each wine-like in Chianti Classico. One person with penchant for a couple of wines requested the Sommelier assigned to our table to bring the wine by the number and we shared most of them. As always most of the premium wines were finished by the time we ordered them.
A great way of tasting wines with food, that!
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