How to Taste Wine: The unedited version

When I wrote this post originally, I did my usual little bit of soul searching and raked over my past experiences. Then I edited it all out. If you want to stick with the slimline version click here

But if you want to learn more about me, and how I came to have this particular understanding of how our senses affect our reality, read on.

In my life before children I was variously a Dental nurse, Barmaid, Waitress,(really bad, spilt stuff but I was nice so I still got good tips) Shopgirl, Homewares and Fashion Wholesale Rep' and then
A wine rep'.

It wasn't a huge leap. I was flying back from Ireland to Aus in the mid-nineties. Dreading having to go back to work and convince people that the new black was aubergine, working two seasons ahead so that by the time fashion actually reached the season that I was wearing; I was over it.

And as the Internet was starting to really catch on, the fashion cheats I worked for were getting caught out and left behind. Going on junkets to the USA to take photos of The GAP and Banana Republic does not equal good design. And I was fed up with the level of imports that selling textiles in Australia involved, and how vulnerable we were to currency variations. So I was looking to jump ship.
So,I open up the in flight magazine and flick through to find out how Australian Wine was taking on the world. Here was something that was actually grown, manufactured and marketed by Australians, in Australia and across the world.

I went home and quit the Rag trade, did a few night courses, worked cellar door for a few months and started going on interviews, and within 6 months had managed to blag my way into a job.

I know. It is terribly hypocritical of me to admit to blagging my way into a new industry on the basis of a few night classes but I never pretended to be a Master of Wine. I just talked the talk, focused on features and benefits and managed to convince people I knew what I was doing enough to buy from me. I wasn't making the stuff, just selling it. It is not the same as those cowboys who pretend to be experts in ABA and take your money. mmmokay?

There I was learning on the job and faking my way up the ladder. Someone left, then someone else got their job and suddenly I wasn't the "everywhere else" rep' but the Restaurant Rep for The North Shore. Another move, another promotion and I was given the C.B.D.Then I got head hunted and suddenly I was selling elite boutique wines to some of the best sommeliers in Sydney AND GETTING AWAY WITH IT.

Truth be told, I don't have a good palate, but I knew enough to listen to people who did and ask for a few good descriptors to use when selling. And because I am a kick arse salesman. I did well at the game. A lot better than many so called "experts" because they didn't understand people and couldn't sell to save their lives.

Up to that point Mr Hammie had been in the Electrical Industry. However he had been putting in stellar work behind the scenes supporting me in my new industry (drinking all my tasting stock basically)
So he thought he could give it a go. He went to a few night classes, started doing my bottle shop tastings and when I had Boo, joined me in a job share.
And guess what?He has an excellent palate.

Not only could he appreciate and understand all the different little nuances of each wine and each vintage and each region as described by the winemaker; he could break it down further and add to it.

His perception of a wine was a lot more sophisticated than mine; but I knew enough to recognise that.

Because the other amazing thing about the wine game is that the industry is full of people with aspects of autism. Their extra sensory perception is recognized and rewarded and there are an awful lot of facts to learn and specialise in. And discuss.
Along with the type of grapes, the region, the vintage and the time of day that the fruit was picked, (Seriously)
you have ; The blend, the type of fermentation, whether or not they used oak, the size of barrel, the type of oak (American, German French), and what forest it came from, (fair dinkum)
how old the oak was (younger = more flavour) and whether it was light, medium or heavy toast.

There were a group of probably Aspie men we called "The Seagulls" because they would flock to all the tastings in wineshops every Friday Night. And they would bring their own glass(!!!!)
A notebook (!!!!) and very seriously taste whatever you were trying to flog and then talk to you about it.
Conversation would go thus:
Me: "Would you like to try the new Allendale Chardonnay?"
Wine Geek: "Yes, what vintage is it?
Me: "The 2007 vintage was memorable as being one with very low cropping levels of intensely flavoured fruit. While 2007 Chardonnay follows very much in the "Allandale" style it shows very rich/ ripe peach flavours balanced with French and American oak characters.....
W.G. "The french oak, is that new?"
Me "ahh, (frantically reading notes) Yes!
W.G. "Nevers or Troncais?"
Me: " ah (taking a guess).. "Troncais!"
W.G. "Barrels or Bariques?, High toast or Medium Toast? What was the Barrel maker's middle name?....."

Enter Mr Hammie, who could not only remember all these salient facts but also genuinely taste the difference they made. He could also argue with the Seagulls about every nuance until they either bought something (rarely) or turned on their socks and sandaled heels* and walked away.

As well as those with an "interest in wine" I met a few winemakers who I felt were "in the spectrum" and using it to produce award winners. They were often cripplingly shy and usually undersold their efforts to the point of putting people off. And yes, there were a large number of socially inept people in the industry whose "direct" manner was taken as rudeness. Seriously, one famous award winning winemaker used to read a book at wine shows, and grunt at anyone who tried to engage with him or taste any of his wines.
So fortunately, they still needed the likes of me with my broad unsophisticated palate to deal with the general public and sell the stuff.

And that's how I got to know, what I don't know.


Anonymous said…
Im a Wino too :D

Hammie I worked in the trade for years in the off licence end and could sell wine to ordinary people, I remember tasting and taking notes on the different sensations from nose to palate and talking customers into trying a wine and writing down thier experience from colours to taste, I loved it when they were interested in learning a bit, not that I was any expert I just loved the subject.

Ahhh You've brought back some lovely memories for me. :)

You have also reminded me of what I forgot I know ;D Im treating myself to a bottle tonight.

Sister Wolf said…
Good story!

I've faked my way into every single job I've ever had. No one has ever caught on that I didn't know what the hell I was doing.
Anonymous said…
Hiya Hammie, 'friad I just dont believe Mr Hammie and anyone else who gets the "whooshes of hollyhocks" when they have a slurp of wine. Give him the butterscotch, hazelnut, peach, pear etc test again with the same five wines and see if he gets them right a second time??!!
I can get the obvious ones like blackcurrent etc, but toast? Come on, I don't beleive it!
Wah :)
Style On Track said…
Just read this post out to my partner, I think he might be a new fan of your blog ;)
Lisamaree said…
Mammy; one of us! It is a great world, enjoy.
Sis, you work it so well, why would they notice?
Fr Dougal: your hollyhocks is my lantana. Shit, people used to stand me next to that stuff and I still couldn't recognise it in a Sauv'Blanc. But that is the whole point; some people's senses are tuned differently; we just have to appreciate that.
OnTrack, deelighted to hear it! More the merrier.
Seeker said…
Darling what an amazing story.
How great Mr Hammie has a good palate, but I'm sure that yours is also great at least enought to make you sense those feelings.

What do you think about Portuguese wines, besides Porto?

Te said…
Faking your way around an industry sounds incredibly stressful to me! But it also sounds like somewhere along the line of your faking, it became genuine.

When I was in Italy we went to a few wine tastings and I just sat there waiting for the cheese table to clear so I could swoop in. I don't think I was old enough to appreciate wine at 18.
Elizabeth said…
I think I said this before, but I don't know anything about wine! I don't drink it! But this is fascinating.
jazzygal said…
My God manage to surpass yourself with each post you do! These last 2 posts are great. Very clever pieces indeed.
I think perhaps the wine business attracts people with Autistic tendancies the way trainspotting and birdwatching etc does?? Lots of minute info to be learned (and retained!)

You have the knack of looking at life and taking situations and bringing them into the autism realm. In a way that's interesting, entertaining and thought provoking.

THE TRUE SIGN OF AN AUTHUR IN THE MAKING!!! Well if you can BLAG your way into the wine business you can most certainly BLOG your way into the publishing world!!

Ya gotta go for it girl! You know there are plenty of people commenting on your blog who are new to the autism world. I belive you can indeed appeal to non autism affected people too.

Now...I must really try out your wine tasting lesson. Looks VERY complicated tho'....might take me a few bottles!!! V xx
K.Line said…
Hammie: Just checked out your blog after seeing your name pop up in comments of my fave sites. Wow, what a great thing you've got going with this blog. Seriously, you impress the crap out of me. I'll certainly be back! K
Anonymous said…
You know Hammie that article got my attention. For those of you who know I have a love of wine and aba. I'm not at the same standard as mister Hammie but I am an amateur and really love the vino.

What I do is peruse my wine books and look for good wines along the lines of what I like. The book will suggest a good Chablis producer or maybe a good Cab Sav from Coonawara, or Missus Ohhhh likes a Rioja reserva (as I do).

Why do I look at the books you might ask, why not trust yourself? When spending fifteen to twenty five squids on a bottle of wine I like to narrow the odds in my favour and get a real gem for my outlay.

ABA is just the same there are bad ones and good ones. Research the person you are investing your childs future in. Do their former Universities eugilise of their virtues, have they published in the journals, do they present at conferences. Like wine all of this can be researched.

On the other hand are they a bottle of Liebfraumilch hiding in among the Grand Crus.
Lisamaree said…
Ohhhhh, right back at ya buddy. Although I tend to go on personal recommendations from people who know. Kline, same to you. I just visited your blog. Nice to see what a pretty city you live in. Will be adding it to my daily round up too.
Enc. Thankyou. Again.
Te; It was a bit exhausting, like the Emperors New Clothes, I kept expecting to get caught out. It was only when I left that I realised that I actually had a talent; for selling.
Seeker: I had to ask Mr Hammie as he is the explorer and he said it has come on hugely in recent times. In my day it was just Mateus! But now Portugal is doing great!
Thanks again everyone for the compliments, a work of love.
And Jazzy? You're up next for Tree of Happiness!
jazzygal said…
Oh yes Hammie....feel free to tag me ( whatever that means!!)I'll do my best to respond, I am a very novice blogger you know!
I unexpectedly did rather a bit of wine sampling last night! Wasn't planned...I stayed on in pub with 2 male friends (married of course!) while hubby took our pooh-bear home!! Well, he had been golfing all day yesterday AND last Friday! my turn I reckoned.
Unfortunately I stayed toooo long! Didn't really "enjoy the aromas" or whatever just knocked 'em back. All tasted fine to me!!!
Not so today though....Hic!!x V
Seeker said…
Dear Hammie of course you can have that motto.
You can pick what you like from my blog, I'm flatered that you find something interesting in it, because my blog is too little for the work you do.
Seeker said…
I gave you a “diamond”… check my blog for details ;)

(The "problem" with hubby is that it's in mainland.)