Typical walk-around wine tastings aren't for the faint of heart. They're serious affairs, complete with hundreds of unpronounceable varietals and appellations (and vintners who might act shocked if you don't know what those words mean).
Set foot inside the doors of one of these white-gloved, silver-plattered events, and it's a world of awkwardness: How do you hold your wine glass while scribbling notes in the margins of your tasting book? Do you spit or swallow? And what if, for the life of you, you can't taste cat pee in that glass of Sauvignon Blanc?
It's enough pressure to make even the most serious wine-lover feel all thumbs at the party. But in an industry that moves slowly -- and reluctantly -- towards change, a company called The Second Glass is making inroads in creating a more relaxed culture of wine tasting. They're events called Wine Riots, and this weekend, they come to New York City.
Wine Riots started out in Boston, where co-founders Morgan First and Tyler Balliet were blown away by what Balliet called a "total disconnect" between the wine producers and consumers who thirsted for more knowledge.
Balliet especially saw room for improvement in the culture of the walk-around: "I was like -- 'Wait a minute: There's a massive room filled with alcohol, and people aren't having fun here?' Everyone was so intimidated. They were afraid to ask questions. So we decided that we needed to break down those barriers."
What started out as an idea to introduce wine, without the usual pomp and circumstance, to the under-30 set turned into a series of tasting events that have proved tremendously popular. After several years in Boston, The Second Glass has hit the road this year with stops in Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, New York and D.C.
Wine Riots are constructed to make even novice wine drinkers feel at ease. "We encourage people to ask anything," Balliet said. "Our vendors say they have the best conversations at these events, because no one's afraid to speak up." Add a photo booth, a DJ, and local food vendors providing under $5 snacks, and Wine Riots start to sound a lot more like a party than a staid tasting event.
But despite the name, Wine Riots are still about teaching the uninitiated to love learning about wine. To do that, Balliet said, they had to find a way for people to record and share the wines the drinkers loved (and didn't) without the awkwardness of note-taking in a crowded room. In the end, the answer was in the palm of their hands: a seamless mobile app that allows people to mark, with the flick of a finger, the wines that pique their interest.
The result is The Second Glass, a free mobile app (available on iPhone and Android) that uses a location-enabled tasting room search to help drinkers seek out wines they think they'll enjoy. From there, imbibers mark each taste using a 'like it,' 'love it' ranking system, upload information about favorites to Facebook and even chart which wines are trending as the most popular during the course of the evening.
At the three Wine Riot sessions taking place at Brooklyn's massive Skylight One Hanson event space this weekend, there will be 250 wines available for tasting, with a special focus on local offerings from the Finger Lakes and Long Island. The New York event also includes a special lounge sponsored by Freixenet, one of the best-known producers of Spanish sparkling wine. And with a vendor-to-attendee ratio that Balliet says he keeps purposely low to allow producers to chat with consumers, the evening becomes even more appealing.