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Sip and savor 

Wine-tasting etiquette and tips

I consider giant wine tastings like Toys "R" Us for adults. You walk in and the sheer number of wines jumbles your senses -- should you play with the new whites or the upgraded version of your favorite reds? Overwhelming, yes, but definitely conquerable ... there are grown-up ways to manage the toy box without wasting precious time.

What you need is a plan -- which will include some calculated spitting. I know it seems wrong to spit out perfectly good wine, but if you're aiming to taste copious numbers of wines, this is a necessary, albeit disgusting, evil. But please practice at home so you don't splatter someone's shoes or shirt.

Before getting sucked into the liquid smorgasbord, study the brochure that the friendly volunteer provides you at the door. Look for familiar wineries, then reject them like an old version of Playstation -- you paid big money to taste new wines, right?

Often, larger tastings are organized by distributor and then winery, both of which cater more to industry politics than the consumer. There will be a mishmash of wines everywhere, so you'll have to dive in and hope they don't suck. Start with white wine, since coating your palate with reds will dull your tongue to white wine's delicate flavors. If you're into sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio (gris) -- likely the lightest of the wines available -- scout those out first, then move to chardonnays. If you like a winery's offering, try their other whites. Then move to the next winery's whites. Once you start hankering for red's sustenance, move on. Dessert wines should be left to the last round, since the sweetness can also ruin your mouth for other wines. If you sense your tastebuds starting to numb, here's a revival tip: Consume some sparkling wine and bread.

Keep in mind that wine tastings aren't all-you-can-drink events (although most people think they are), so don't feel compelled to finish the serving, especially if you don't like it. You won't offend anyone. And don't be one of those, "Pour me a bigger serving" morons ... Jesus, I hate those people. It's a tasting, dude.

And a tip for those people trying to appear savvy: Don't rinse your glass with water after every taste. Not only does it make you look like an amateur -- pros rinse with wine, if anything, and usually only if returning to whites after reds -- it wastes time and waters down the next wine. Don't let the people behind the table do it to you either. Some wineries don't want to waste wine for rinsing, which is understandable, but watering down the wine won't give you the full effect of its flavor.

Be sure to bring a pen and make notes about wines that intrigue you -- it helps, especially after a couple of hours of drinking dulls your memory. I assure you, the next morning's haze makes every label fuzzy.

And finally, a word about responsibility: After these big tastings, my guess is that 90 percent of eventgoers are not fit for the wheel. Be responsible and take a cab, or designate a driver.

Reviewed Wines

Brassfield Estates Winery 2004 Pinot Noir High Valley A pricey little number, but light, peppery, cherry-laden juice. A hint of cough syrup on the finish. Sw = 1. $23. ***

Banrock Station 2005 Chardonnay SE Australia Not a bad everyday quaff. Floral aroma and peaches and lychee in the mouth. A finish like nail polish remover is disconcerting but surmountable considering the price. Sw = 3. $6. **1/2

Turner Road 2005 Chardonnay Central Coast Tastes like citrus water spiked with chemicals, and I couldn't get the taste out of my mouth. Ewww. Sw = 2. $10. *

Sweetness (Sw) rating is out of 10, 10 being pure sugar. Star (*) rating is out of 5, 5 being wine nirvana.

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