What is a Wine Trade Tasting?
A trade tasting is an event held by one or more wine importers, showcasing the wines that they bring in from various places around the world. Typically, only those people whose work is related to the industry (that is, “in the trade”) are invited. People in hospitality and retail can taste many samples and choose what is a good fit for their restaurant or store. Sometimes media are present as well, taking photos and writing up articles for various newspapers and magazines.
Trade tastings are typically held in large venues, from restaurants to hotel function rooms, to allow for easier movement and navigation.
Spit, Do Not Swallow
There are no hard “rules” at a trade tasting, but certain standards of behaviour and etiquette do exist.
So if there is one rule that you have to follow, it’s this: Spit, do not swallow.
Mostly this is a matter of common sense – keep in mind that these events are held by professionals, for professionals.
“The Trade” is a small community, and eventually everyone will know everyone else, so be sure not to spoil your reputation by being overly rambunctious.
Navigating The Maze
The organisers of a trade tasting will often provide you with a page or booklet that lists all the suppliers present, sometimes with specific wines and prices.
Before tasting anything, it’s a good idea to give this a flip-through.
If you arrive at a trade tasting with the goal of tasting absolutely everything, chances are you are going to emerge feeling everything tasted the same, and feeling mildly inebriated no matter how much spitting you did.
Neophytes see trade tastings as a wine wonderland. Professionals know it as a hunting ground.
For example, say you were a restaurant owner. You know what cuisine your venue specialises in, and you know the type of patrons it attracts. You would then narrow down your choices of which wines to taste according to your experience of what you know your patrons prefer. If your budget allows for it, perhaps you can be a bit flexible and spice up your wine list with some more exotic offerings that inspire you.
If you approach a trade tasting as a student of wine, your priorities will be different once again. You don’t want to taste a wine that you’ve had hundreds of times before – you want to broaden your palate with new knowledge, especially with samples that you may not come across often due to issues of price or commercial availability.
There is also the chance to recalibrate your palate – I like to revisit German Rieslings where possible, as they are available at various sugar levels and it gives me a chance to reconfirm my baselines for this style of wine.
Often you may see a vertical selection on display – the same wine across different vintages. As above, you can recalibrate your senses by noting how a wine changes with age in terms of colour, aroma and flavour.
At the very heart of it, I suppose my advice is the same as I’ve always written: know what you want, and know what to look for.
However, in the face of a trade tasting with it’s plethora of options, that can sometimes drop out of mind. All you can do is train and discipline yourself a little bit more every day.
Read more: How Much Does A Sommelier Need To Know?