How to Sample Wine Without Looking like a Clown

Jesse Brown, a BoingBoing guest-blogger, is the host of TVO's Search Engine podcast.

Here's some more unpretentious wine instruction from Kathryn Borel Jr.

And here's a link to Borel's new memoir, Corked (link). Free sample chapter here (PDF).


  1. Hmmm. I appreciate it is a demonstration but… if I was tasting wine from a glass that dirty I would have to ask to see the kitchen also…

  2. I like these, I can’t wait for an opportunity to try that champagne lancing.

    Does she look like Milla Jovavich to anyone else?

  3. Great. And the cork bit. If the waiter hands you the cork, you are to inspect it to make sure it has not decayed, don’t sniff the cork!

  4. I’m in the business, and cringe when I see how uncomfortable people are because of perceived protocols around wine. A great video with a simple explanation of what the sampling is for.

  5. She doesn’t look like Milla Jovavich to anyone else but I think we can agree shes pretty.

    So what is this book, it seems its like Sideways but with a father and a daughter instead of two loosers?

  6. I’m with Jesse and Gber — Unpretentious is exactly the way it should be.

    Wine is made to be drunk and enjoyed, preferably with good company. Some of my favourite wines were bought from (after being shared with) a guy selling wine out of an unused barn on the farm that’s been in his family for generations — and he’s wearing a torn shirt with dirt on his hands.

    Wine is real. Enjoy.

  7. No…she doesn’t look at like Milla Jovavich. She’s awfully cute, though. And that glass DOES appear to be dirty. Perhaps the video seen here is, like, TAKE 13 and she’s been drinking out of that glass all morning and got it all fingerprinty. See? That’s me defending a pretty girl who, in reality, would never even give the likes of me the time of day. Drnk btch.

  8. they should also offer you the cork, so you can look at it and make sure it matches the bottle. it doesn’t happen so much anymore, but you could order an expensive bottle, and wind up with something cheap poured into an empty bottle of what you’ve ordered, and another cork jammed in there.

  9. One thing that I think many people don’t know, aside from how to check from corked wines, is how many wines are actually corked (spoiled). Apparently it’s 8%-10% depending on average (less with modern non-natural corks and production methods, perhaps more with older wines).

    That means that roughly 1 in 10 bottles of wine sold in restaurants is bad. In many cases people are too uncertain about the process and lack confidence around wine enough to know when they’ve been given a bad bottle. Perhaps the best thing that anyone can do in a wine tasting class is drink a bad bottle so that they know what to look for… and know how to identify it before they take a big swig of it, which can really spoil a whole meal.

    When in doubt, send it back. Trust your tastebuds. Except when you’ve ordered a Tempranillo – it’s supposed to taste like that. Really, it is.

  10. jaybone: thank you for your defense. that is exactly what happened. and at that point, i HAD been drinking wine out of the glass all morning, which caused me to be vaguely drunk, which in turn made me less fastidious about checking the glass to see if i’d smudged it with my oily hamfists.

    (and juicebox: YES. thank you for the addendum.)

    (and for the rest: shucks.)

    milla non-milla, the drunkard.

  11. She may indeed look like Milla Jovavich…. whoever Milla Jovavich is. She certainly doesn’t look like Milla Jovovich.

    its like Sideways but with a father and a daughter instead of two loosers

    Cork-loosers, maybe: losers, no.

  12. I’d buy the book, just because the author is cute, but I could care less about wine in general. I appreciate the explanation she gives in this video. I honestly thought the whole initial taste was to check and make sure the wine didn’t suck.

    Where’s the beer guide(s)?

  13. I, for one, thought her voice to be adorable, just like the rest of her. I’ve enjoyed both this and the champagne video. Perhaps even enough to buy her book!

  14. I still think doing all that sniffing and swirling is pretentious. My favorite move at a restaurant is to nonchalantly motion to the server to just pour it, while smiling and saying, “I’m sure it’s fine.”

  15. a corked wine is as obvious of as skunked beer, but for whatever reason, people have an attitude that wine is better than you, and no matter how it tastes, its expensive and supposed to taste like that.

    speaking of which, has anyone read the millionaires vinegar? i havent gotten around to it yet but heard it was entertaining.

    1. I can’t remember the writer who told this story, but her father with a thick Boston accent once yelled at a waiter, “I’ve tasted cock before and this wine taste like cock!”

  16. She’s great and I love these videos. There’s a third on her vimeo page where she gives a synopsis of her book. I’ll definitely be reading it!

  17. Heyomar, all that does is expose you as knowing nothing about wine. If you *should* get a bottle that’s corked, you get the extra ignominy of having given a pass to a bottle that should go down the drain, and because you’re “sure it’s fine”, your companions may feel like they’re stuck with a crappy wine because you don’t give know or care enough to check it out on their behalf.

    If in doubt, give the honour of the first taste to someone who might be able to figure it out.

    You should also make sure that they open the wine at the table — any respectable restaurant will do so. Opening the bottle in a back room is a sure coverup for a switcheroo to a cheaper wine.

    Handing you the cork, by the way, is only so that you can see for yourself that the cork is not dried out or mouldy. Either condition means that the wine is probably not fit to drink. You don’t need to sniff it — just glance at it and make sure it’s in good condition — wet at the bottom, and not dry and crumbly, with no visible mould or mildew.

  18. superduper27: i find my own voice to be incredibly annoying. and i have to hear it all the time, in my own head. like, ALL THE TIME. imagine. it’s the worst.

    cognitive dissonance: the billionaire’s vinegar kicks an enormous amount of ass. i highly recommend it.

  19. Cognitive Dissonance,
    It may give you cognitive dissonance to know that just as many people can’t tell when beer is skunked either.

    This may explain why Sleeman has done so well in Ontario over the years.

  20. I typically take a bite out of the cork (the wine end, NOT THE FOIL END), chew it up and swallow. I pause thoughtfully and then give the sommelier permission to decant. The guests applaud and the waiter bows deeply. Well played sir, well played.

  21. The main thing to look at on the cork is to make sure that you don’t see that wine has made it all the way to the top of the cork. If the wine has made it out the air has made it in. No reason to sniff it and really no reason to read it, he’s most likely just opened the bottle at the table and if you didn’t know to look already you’re probably not ordering super expensive wine. Just make sure it’s wet on one end and dry on the other with no wine lines going all the way back up.

  22. Sure if you go to a restaurant and there’s a Sommelier, then hey ho, they’re gonna be pretty cool about you saying the wine is bad/corked. The correct and simple answer is “I’ll be right back with another one.”

    I’m not a wine twat, or a tasting genius, but I drink enough to know when it’s gone off. I went out for a meal with a girlfriend and all her friends, and even though the wine was borked, everyone seemed a bit confused when I said, “this is off, I’ll let the waiter know.” Then, to make matters worse, I had to spend 10 minutes explaining to the two people behind the bar of this busy restaurant that the wine was off. I jest ye not when I say that I only got a satisfactory resolution to this escapade when one of them actually took a sip from my glass and screwed her face up. Good grief, customer service guys, that’s not how you do it. So while no one realised the wine was bad, per ce, they certainly knew when a fresh bottled arrived it was better.

  23. That’s me defending a pretty girl who, in reality, would never even give the likes of me the time of day.

    You have some self esteem issues. Pretty/cute women are capable of being nice.

  24. @31 There’s a reason why waiting is a vocational education over here and other countries, with a couple of years before you can start becoming a sommelier.

  25. I once had a dinner party where a guest brought a case of wine. Every bottle was vinegar.

    But, you know, it was *tasty* vinegar. Not like your purified hi-test cooking vinegar at all. Drinking it made me understand how the Roman legions could march for weeks drinking nothing else.

    I served everyone else some un-vinegar’d beverage, but I continued to drink the vinegar, and over the course of a week or two I drank the whole case. It did me no harm, and although I wouldn’t want to drink it exclusively, it really wasn’t all that bad.

  26. Recently I went out to dinner with someone who ordered wine for the table, sampled it, said something like “tastes very nice” or whatever, and then we all had to drink corked wine because we didn’t want to embarrass the guy. Not fun.

    #35: nice. =)

  27. Un délicieux, l’explication des mÅ“urs fructueuse vin en toute simplicité, sans le “être ensemble et de savoir tout cela d’une emphase freak vin d’insécurité.” Et non, vous ne regardez pas comme n’importe qui d’autre que vous, ce n’est pas que rafraîchissant de savoir! Merci.

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