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Wine Tasting Code Words

My wife is one of the most polite people you could ever meet. Whether this is due to her upbringing, an aspect of her demeanor, or just her go-to behavior, she is polite to a fault. This materializes itself in often unexpected places: She lets the neighborhood kids have first go at the biggest, ripest blackberries that grow on our fence; she feels compelled to listen to the full pitch when eating the food samples at our local price club; she turns shades of blush if anyone in our party offers criticism of a winery's offerings in front of the person pouring. After all, if you don't have something nice to say ...

With wine festival season approaching, this presents a unique quandary—how do you engage in anything more than polite prattle at the tasting booth? More so, how do you warn the members of your party that the Malbec you are about to sample tastes of hints at blackberry vinegar with notes of regret? Certainly you can't all rate the wines you are drinking on a numeric scale: "The Albariño is an 8 for sure, but the Cabernet is a 6 at best".

In a particularly inventive moment, my wife and I came up with a solution. We developed a method of coding our ratings that obscures their meaning to the unaware pourer—no need to risk impoliteness, but offering free range to rate the wines with one another. Here is how it works: As both of us have good awareness of Frederick County, we positioned our scale so the cities and landmarks represent points along the scale with items more northbound receiving higher marks. A top tasting wine—one that we are sure to pick up a bottle of—would get a label of Emmitsburg, maybe a Camp David. One that we might secretly want to pour out would get tagged Urbana. Let me quickly say that this is not a slight to Urbana. We lived there for the first 10 years of our married life. It's just, well, south—and works well on our scale.

We've been using this scale for the past few years and have reached the point where we can bring up place names as part of our back and forth:

"This wine reminds me of the Chardonnay from the wedding we attended at Ceresville."

"I'll agree, I think that couple lives in Walkersville now."

We have come to use this secret code in a variety of settings, from tastings at local wineries (try the Cabernet Reserve—it's a clear Lewistown) to wine fests (advice: get the VIP ticket to Frederick Wine Festival to sample some hidden North Frederick varietals), to our own local wine shop (Mark at Spin the Bottle has a great selection).

Feel free to adopt our code for your own geography. Oh, and if you see my wife and I at an event, holding up a glass and talking about that trip to the Catoctin Zoo, know that we either have a great story to share or a top-notch wine in our hands.

Looking to try this code out for yourself, with your groups? The Frederick Wine Festival is back on Carroll Creek, August 5—and tickets are on sale now!

Written by David Gruzick, a native of Michigan but now proud resident of Downtown Frederick. This article originally appeared on

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