Learning The Art Of The Tilt, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, And Spit


Wine tasting notes have always made me kind of giggle. I mean, it’s all fun and games talking about notes of honeysuckle, fresh pear and citrus. But then it so often veers into the implausible with something along the lines of “reminiscent of fresh cactus” (as if you’ve ever stuffed a cactus in your mouth and then likened it to something grape derived).

And then there’s the just bizarre, where I tend to draw the line. When it comes to the complexities of the wine’s aroma and citing “freshly mown grass,” not to mention “hints of gunflint” and “pencil shavings” (I kid you not folks these have actually shown up on real wine descriptions) I give up on the little pamphlet guiding me to the perfect wine. After all, this is supposed to be in theory an enjoyable beverage I might pair with food, not the items you might find in shop class.

Likewise, wine shops can be overwhelming. My thoughts generally run the gamut of “Do I really want to fork over $45 for a bottle of Chianti the salesclerk is practically salivating over?” And then, “Have I even had Chianti? How do I pronounce Chianti? Better let her say it first… Now what’s she saying about tannins? What the heck are tannins anyway? I really wish I could just crack open the bottle try before I buy.”

Luckily in New York City opportunities exist to do just that.  I had the good fortune to recently practice my best tilt, swirl, sniff, sip, and spit. Just kidding, I didn’t spit. That would be unladylike, and well, wasteful.

The second annual NYC Autumn Wine Festival, which took place in the beautiful and stately downtown Broad Street Ballroom, seriously had everything one could want to facilitate some serious vino higher learning.

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There were 34 different tables set up with venders featuring wines from all over the world. There was live music. There were sophisticated snacks, — most notably lots of cheese, because no combination has been so perfect since peanut butter met jelly.  The wines did mostly come with descriptive prose, yes, but there were often helpful hints about which foods would go best with which wines. There was even a coffee table, just in case you started feeling drowsy after so many samples.

Perhaps the best part of the experience was being able to approach someone highly knowledgeable with a few vague comments about my preferences, such as liking semi-dry, fruity reds, and being introduced to say, the stunners at table sweet 16, Domenico Valentino.

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This table featured all Italian reds with great depth and flavor ranging from sweet and light to spicy and robust. The representative even shared a little history, noting that one wine was produced by a passionate, one-man operation, while another made in the “heel country” in Italy, referring to the boot-shaped geographic region.

Another table housed a selection of ice wines, which I always equated to just mean sweet or dessert wines, but they are indeed made from frozen grapes. Picked after late harvest, the grapes are left on the vine until the frost comes, then hand-picked and pressed while frozen. It takes about 2,000 grapes to make a single bottle!

Even sparkling ciders made an appearance, with Standard Cider Company’s “True Believer” tasting exactly like taking a bite of a crisp, juicy (alcoholic) apple. Brilliant.

Cheers to the NYC Autumn Wine Festival for helping to expand New Yorkers’ tasting horizons. Be sure to visit their website for information on upcoming events.

Would love to know…what’s your go-to vino for fall?  Share below!

By: Sarah Henry of Written in Chocolate

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox.


  • Dick Jordan says:

    Lucky me, I live within an hour or less drive from the Napa/Sonoma wine growing region near San Francisco, so over the last 40-odd years, I’ve had many opportunities to “Tilt, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, And Spit” California wines.

    But one of the fun things I did recently was to attend a tasting/food pairing of wines from Sicily to Italy’s Veneto at an “enoteca” (wine bar) associated with an Italian restaurant in the city of Sonoma. Alas, those particular wines from the Zonin group of wineries are not very widely available for retail sale here, but fortunately, I was able to buy some at the wine bar that evening.

  • Mike says:

    Great post Sarah and thank you for sharing her with us, Jessica. I grew up in the California Central Valley and most kids around middle school to high school started having wine around the dinner table. In VERY small (1/4 wine glass) portions for the younger end of the spectrum. Many of us were exposed to wine tasting and technique and it’s quite an art to fine tune. I used to be pretty good at but not so much any more. One of my best steak pairings was with a Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc. Dang…now I want to go out to eat! :)

    • Used York City says:

      Ahh, sounds like you guys took after the French! I swear, over there it was cheaper to get wine at a grocery store than bottled water!;-) And that pairing sounds fantastic, Mike, thanks for sharing!

  • Andrea zeilner says:

    Wine Tasting sounds like fun. My friends (winegrower)in South-Tyrol, Italy gave me a few times the opportunity to help with the harvest of the grapes therefore I think I know the grapes better than the wine. After wine tasting I can only tell you whether I liked the wine or not but
    nothing about the hillside situation, the soil or the sun hours.

    • Used York City says:

      What an amazing opportunity, Andrea! I think the more you get to know the process, and get to actually know how the grapes are used, the better you will ultimately appreciate the wine tasting!:-)

  • I so want those snacks and that wine.

  • Nancie says:

    Always love a good wine show. I would have never left the Italian reds! Thanks for taking the time to link up this week. #TPThursday

  • Tamara says:

    I admit I know absolutely nothing about wine! The snacks look incredible, though.
    We used to take houseguests to Sonoma and Calistoga when I lived in San Francisco, because Napa was too crowded for me!

    • Used York City says:

      That’s a great tip about avoiding the crowds at Napa, Tamara! I’ve never been out that way for the wine tours, but will remember it when I eventually do:-)

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