August is a time of sun and relaxation on the Salento peninsula. Beaches are crammed full, sailboats and yachts dot the calm Adriatic and Ionian Seas, and celebrations are in full effect, from wine-focused events to reggae concerts and Slow Food festivals. Not a bad way to indulge in the good life, and Italians know all about it. As I report for I-Italy Magazine, the Mercatino Del Gusto festival, a massive, 4-day event organized by Slow Food Puglia, offered samples of hundreds of wines. I approached the festival in a pragmatic manner: 1st night for white wines, 2nd for rosati, and 3rd for reds. But it didn't take me long to wonder how professional wine tasters and distributors taste through over a 100 wines in a day without getting totally wasted.
So here are a few tips for staying classy while drinking copious amounts of wine. In my experience, taking tiny sips is the wrong way to go. You don't taste all that the wine has to offer, particularly in regards to body and finish. Also, no matter how tiny, after 20 little sips you're bound to be a bit tipsy, and that's no good because you've got another 80 wines to go. So, learn to spit.
Spitting is both gross and counter-intuitive, and likely you'll be the only one doing it. I didn't let this bother me, however, simply out of necessity (I was very thankful at the end of the night). Here's a good article written by Michael Steinberger for Slate Magazine on how to spit. In my opinion, it's all about getting a large mouthful so that you can taste as much of the wine as possible before sending it on it's way.
So you're not drunk, but you are tasting so many wines it makes your head spin. You need a game plan. I chose to separate my nights by wine-type: white, rosato, and red. However, any
thoughtful approach works. If you're at an event with 50 wineries, such as the Calici di Stelle wine festival in Lecce that I'm attending tonight, any number of routes can be taken. I'm likely going to focus on wines from the Castel del Monte DOC, which is one of the best known DOCs in Puglia and which is producing incredible wines with the red Nero di Troia grape. Say you want to be a Zinfandel/Primitivo connoisseur: focus the night on tasting the differences between wines made with Zinfandel. This taught me how to taste typicity of the grape, the different flavors brought out by using oak barrels vs. stainless steel, the different flavors from the different growing regions, and the different approaches to the grape taken by winemakers.
To make sure my taste buds do not get overly saturated, I try to make use of the crackers, taralli, or other bland foods that are lying around. This gives the taste buds a break and prepares them for the next wave of wine.
Water is, of course, a serious necessity, both for the morning after and for keeping your mind clear. And it's such a simple trick! One glass of water an hour will keep you refreshed and alert.
So these are my tips for drinking 100 wines in a day without losing track of what you've tasted or waking up with that less-than-fresh feeling, I'd love to hear yours. Salute!