The art of the tasting pour: another common wine-service flub

Earlier today, Swirl Girl Kendra Anderson lamented common wine-service flubs in Denver restaurants, berating spots that propagate listless lists and serve poorly temped juice.

And while each one of her points rings true with us, we've got another bone to pick: the etiquette of the tasting pour.

There are two times when tasting is generally within the rules: when a diner orders a bottle and is invited to approve it, and when a diner asks for a taste of juice the restaurant pours by the glass before committing to a wine selection.

The second occasion is murkier -- and it's where diners sometimes behave badly. Ideally, a wine-savvy bartender knows enough about the beverage list and menu to pinpoint and describe an appropriate selection for a diner, which, in turn, gains the trust of the eater, thereby surpassing any need for tasting at all. And while that's not always the case, we're of the opinion that, within reason, asking for a wine taste is well within a diner's bill of rights. It's sort of like ice cream: two samples and then you make a decision; don't just taste through a flight of freebies. Plus, judicial tastings save the restaurant money in the end. Restaurants that do it right freely offer tastes to finicky drinkers, since it's one of the best ways to ensure that wine-lovers get what they want without the restaurant having to eat the cost of an entire glass of wine. We're talking less than an ounce to just a couple of people per night.

Our real pet peeve, though, is that too often, we see tasting pours that look like this:

This is not useful. For most people, it takes about a swallow and a half to really determine what a wine tastes like, since the first sip usually shocks the palate and seems astringent. And if the whole point is for us to determine whether we like the stuff -- because we just bought the bottle or because we're about to drop our hard-earned dollars on an overpriced by-the-glass selection -- at least give us the courtesy of being able to make that call.

Follow @CafeWestword on Twitter

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk