“Tastes Like… A Dirty Saddle:” How My Virtual Wine Tasting Got Lit… And A Little Weird

Toby Keith country music

My family and I huddled around computer screens across the country for our “Virtual Wine Tasting Experience.”

We were knee deep in the COVID-19 pandemic, but we wouldn’t let that keep us from having a great time around the holidays. Through the magic of Zoom video chat, we could see each other’s ugly Christmas sweaters, Santa hats, and healthy pours of California Central Coast wine in our glasses.

It was the best we could do staying 6 feet apart in late 2020…

And thanks to that experience, there’s a new entry in my family’s Christmas lore: that time our virtual wine-tasting host told us the fancy wine we were drinking tasted like a “dirty saddle.”

Our host was wonderful; a young, blonde woman who had the aura of that friend at the bar who always gets you to take one too many shots. She embraced the difficult role of making everyone comfortable on a group video chat, the stranger in a sea of screens.

She was engaging and fun, encouraging us to throw out our inhibitions and to speak plainly about what we smelled and tasted with every sip of the three-bottle sample the winery shipped to our households ahead of the event. 

Most of us were novice wine drinkers, just there for a good time. So, we kept pouring, and pouring, and pouring. Feeling merry and sloshed, we trotted out the wildest descriptions we could think of, stretching our creativity with images of campfires, mossy forests, and every fruit under the sun. Then she hit us with her expert opinion on a glass of Mourvèdre. 

“I get notes of blackberry, cinnamon… a little dirty saddle.”

Dirty saddle? I almost spit out my wine.

I get the appeal of some well-worn leather. I still love the smell of my leather baseball mitt, and I’d sometimes even chew on it a little in between pitches in Little League. The mitt was quite dirty, caked in infield dust, grass clippings, and sweat from my own hands.

But the sweat on a dirty saddle, even if it’s your own… I just wouldn’t get my face anywhere near something like that.

I’ve heard that sommeliers and expert wine connoisseurs train their palates by drinking lots of wine (I can do that) and by smelling and tasting a wide variety of other substances to help build the senses and vocabulary they need to describe what they’re tasting. One expert I know owns a sort of “tastes and scents appetizer platter” full of things like charcoal, leather, oak, and other items that you’ll often see written on a wine bottle’s label.

Our host probably trained for this job the same way. So, I couldn’t shake the image of her creeping through some barn, doing “research.” 

Our family emerged from the virtual tasting with a much-needed connection with the people we love, a good buzz, and a great family story in a trying year without much going on. 

Everyone’s taste is their taste, whether in music, food, or wine. And as someone who prefers the smokiest scotches and the bitterest IPA’s, a little dirty saddle in my wine glass is probably on brand. 

So, I bought a few bottles of that Mourvèdre after all.

As our host might say, “You do you, cowboy.”

Cue up the Toby…

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock