Day in the life of a wine taster
PUBLISHED: 11:31 28 June 2016 | UPDATED: 11:31 28 June 2016
It sounds the perfect job, but what is it really like to be a wine taster? Broadland Wineries’ Director of Wine, Dr Arabella Woodrow talks us through a day in her life
Tasting wine is an essential part of the trade, as it is vital not only to select the right wines to offer to customers but also to check on quality at various stages.
My days in the winery usually start off quietly with a cup of tea to assess the day’s priorities. First, are there any samples of bulk wine received for me to approve before bottling? These are usually the most urgent as bottling has to wait until both the lab and I have completed rigorous checks.
Then, what samples have come in to the office from abroad? These are not always the final product as they may have been taken directly from a producer’s storage tank, without being filtered, so may not taste as clean and fresh as the final product. An experienced taster’s job is to look beyond this to assess the wine’s potential. Worse still, if the wine is still fermenting following the vintage harvest, it will be opaque and still fizzing. Wines are easiest to assess when treated ready for bottling, or already bottled, but sometimes a quick decision has to be made to agree a blend in time for an urgent order. I also taste wine after it has been bottled to compare for consistency with previous orders. As the year progresses wines can evolve (whites become fuller and reds soften), so the blend may need adapting.
From time to time, travel abroad is essential, particularly just after the harvest. A producer will have lots of different styles available, so getting in early gives me the best choices. One of my favourite parts of the job is meeting our partner wineries and seeing the hard work and love involved, with each country and winery having their own story to tell. This does mean, though, that I am always doing the visits in winter, and tasting very young, astringent wines, often straight from tank or barrel. So it’s not all glamorous travel!
Typically, I will taste many different samples (80 or more is not unusual) from which to make our own bespoke blend. I remain involved throughout the process to ensure we get the best quality at the best price. Samples are sent back to the UK for lab analysis to agree a specification with the producer, as well as a price, for that year’s blend. I will also visit trade shows here or abroad where I can meet many producers offering wines for sale. These are great opportunities to taste and compare under the same roof.
Tasting is hard work, nevertheless. Professional tasters always spit out all samples tasted to keep a clear head, but tasting is hard on the teeth. Wine is very acidic so can attack tooth enamel, and red wine will stain. If I have tasted a lot of reds, I try not to smile at anyone on the way home as the Dracula-like red teeth and lips look very scary!
Even if I have done a lot of tasting, I still like to relax afterwards with a glass to drink, without needing to make any decisions about it.