Winning Wine Tastings

Mike Cook

Wine and I are not particularly good friends. Nevertheless, this past weekend a group and I went to Bistro RX's first wine tasting, and despite the fact that I felt less than glossy the next day (not entirely Bistro RX's fault), I really enjoyed myself. We had six wines paired with six tasting courses, and it was great.

I didn't love every dish or every wine, but the fried oyster was crisp on the outside, the duck was rich and garlicky, and the tasting pours were a generous three ounces with the occasional gifted refill. Bistro RX didn't pay me to write this (though so far it might sound that way), but money is a part of the reason the wine tasting was so great. For six tastes and six plates the price was only $25. I have no doubt their prices will increase in the future, but at the moment, this is surely the best deal in town.

It also has me thinking about wine tastings. They are not what they used to be. There's no spit bucket at the modern Baltimore wine tasting. People go to drink. Wine is no longer reserved for individuals too refined to get messy, either. Just look at the Federal Hill Wine Festival: the sloppiest example of wine drinking on the planet.

Though most wine tastings now embrace people looking for a buzz, they luckily don't embrace festival-style debauchery. Instead, there's usually a strong focus on food.

Pairing food and drink is one of my favorite challenges, but for the uninitiated it can seem very unnecessary. Why let your foods determine your wine, or vice versa? By far the easiest way to understand why pairing makes sense is to plow through five or six courses in a row.

It also helps that at many area wine tastings, the restaurant owner, wine distributor, chef, or all three take a moment to speak about the food and drink. It only takes a little illumination on the reason for a pairing to bring those flavors to life on the tongue.

There are wine tastings and pairing dinners of all kinds out there now. (Beer dinners have recently become very popular too.) There are swanky ones coming up at Sotta Sopra and Morton’s, and far more accessible versions around town. My friend is a big fan of Idle Hour's wine tasting. Though they don't offer paired plates, there's often food and they do provide an introduction to inexpensive bottles which you can buy from the bar immediately afterward.

That's perhaps my favorite feature of a wine tasting; the specials offered on the bottles you've just tried. The wine world is a jungle, so once I finally do find a bottle I can make friends with, I want to procure myself one. Though I'm far from being the kind of sophisticate who's going to spit wine (any wine) into a bucket, I do like to cook a nice dinner at times, and when I have people over, I want to be sure that the wine does what it’s supposed to and helps to show off the food I just spent so much time on.

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