What is The Tasting Group?


“Authors waiting for their books to be agented”       courtesy of author Judith Land, on Pinterest

Question from Andre: Hi! I enjoy your blog. Why is it called The Tasting Group?

Reply: Hi, Andre. Thanks so much for writing! The Tasting Group is the name of a book I’m working on. The idea is to learn about wine by tasting it in an organized way with your friends. The photo and caption above feel quite literally true. One of the first rude awakenings for an aspiring author is that it’s almost impossible to get a literary agent to represent you. It took me forever to find mine, but I believe I have a good one. 

The story, below, is the introduction to my book and tells you why I believe so strongly in the concept: 

When I moved to Napa Valley, fresh out of school, and took an entry-level job at Robert Mondavi Winery my boss handed me a copy of Maynard Amerine’s Wine and was only half joking when he said “Commit this to memory.” This textbook was far too technical for the novice I was at the time so I bought a copy of Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine Course to begin educating myself.

Yet wonderful as that book is, after a full day of work, hitting the grocery store and getting dinner on the table I found my eyes drooping and my attention wandering as I tried to absorb the information in Zraly’s book. How was I ever going to learn and retain what I needed to know to forward my career? And, what could he possibly mean by describing a Sauvignon Blanc as “flinty?”
Then, two really great things happened that forever changed my life.

First, my boss encouraged me to attend the monthly staff tasting after work. As I sat down to my first blind, comparative tasting, I was completely intimidated. In front of me were eight glasses of who-knows-what white wine and a score sheet. I would have preferred a slow death to sharing my uninformed impressions with the winemaker and the other more-experienced staff present. But, once we were all seated, an expert on German wines began telling us about the most famous wine regions in Germany and what to expect from the Riesling grape at this, my first, Mosel tasting. The scent of those floral, ethereal wines and the images he showed us of the steep, slate-covered slopes of the Mosel live in my memory to this day.

Then, some colleagues invited me to sit in on their tasting group, composed of wine enthusiasts and professionals. The format was similar to what I’d experienced at work – the only thing we knew about the six glasses of red wine in front of us was that they were Merlot wines from the Napa Valley. The host for the month filled us in on why Napa Valley is well suited to Merlot and talked about the characteristics of the Merlot grape. There was a quiet time of evaluation, ranking the wines from most to least favorite. I jotted down general descriptions of the wines that rang true for me.  We tallied up our scores and then, the revelation! As the brown-paper bags came off of the bottles and the brands were revealed, the noise level in the dining room exploded in an excited debate about the wines that “won” or “lost” the tasting.

The host brought out a platter of cheese and bread and the tasting morphed into a party as we washed down the cheese with more wine and defended our top-ranked favorites. The room was abuzz with opinions on Merlot as a Cabernet wannabe and how much oak is too much. After that tasting, I never forgot that Merlot is the most widely planted grape variety in Bordeaux, it likes clay soil and the wine owes its supple texture to Merlot’s relatively thin skin.

That was it – I was hooked! I joined the group as a regular member. Even now, tasting with friends and colleagues is still the most valuable and enjoyable part of my continuing education. As an educator, writing The Tasting Group is the answer to every newly-inspired wine enthusiast’s number-one question: “How do I learn more?”

What I can now add to the caption, above, is: ‘And the bones have turned to dust by the time your agent finds a publisher’  😉 

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