Wine Tasting Etiquette - Things to Do

Visiting a winery and tasting their wines is a wonderful experience.  But, it's not like going out to a bar.  Wineries are most often small businesses. When you go into a winery's tasting room, you are a guest at a place of business. And, therefore, there are certain norms of behavior when visiting.  While tasting room etiquette may seem to take some of the fun out of a visit, it shouldn't.  You should have fun and enjoy your visit.  But, there are a few things to keep in mind.

What you should do when wine tasting:

  • Wine tasting is an adult activity. Be classy and act like an adult.
  • There is a subtle sophistication that goes along with wine tasting. Look nice for your visit.
  • Take your valid ID with you. You'll only be served if you are of legal drinking age.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. A vineyard tour or barrel room tour will require comfortable, sturdy shoes.
  • If you would like to have a picnic lunch at a winery, please ask before eating on their grounds.
  • Make reservations if you have a large group (greater than 5 or more).
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water in between winery visits.
  • Eat in between winery visits.
  • Pay attention to your host. Ask good questions. Learn.
  • If the tasting bar is crowded, make room for new arriving guests.
  • Do feel free to use the bucket to dump your glass, if you choose not to finish the tasting, or to spit out the wine. Or you can ask for a cup, if you'd like to be more discrete with your spitting.
  • Be polite to your host and express your gratitude for their service. 
  • Tipping your host is not expected. But, buying a bottle of wine is a great way of expressing your gratitude.
  • If you did take a large group or receive some special treatment, then you can consider tipping your host.
  • If you must take your children to a tasting room (which is really discouraged), do supervise them.
  • If your tasting was complimentary, seriously consider buying a bottle of wine.
  • Another way to express your gratitude to your host is to send an email or a message through social media to the winery and give special thanks to your host.
  • Do 'revisits' of wines when you are serious about re-evaluating a wine that you are considering purchasing.
  • After completing your visit, ask your host for recommendations of other wineries to visit. They are usually very good about making recommendations based on your preferences and they may also provide you with coupons or referral cards.

While you should do the items listed above, there are also a number of things that you should not do while visiting a winery's tasting room.  We'll get to those next time.  For now, happy wine tasting!  Cheers!


How to Get the Most from a Wine Tasting Visit

Once you are in the winery's tasting room and have chosen the wine tasting option for you, then the fun really begins.  There is so much to experience. And the wine is just part of it.

As stated previously, you can simply work your way down the tasting menu or you can focus on particular varietals.  Working your way down the list is always interesting since you get the option to compare and contrast the wines. But definitely tell your host what kinds of wines you prefer. Based on your preferences, your host will be able to pour other options directed at your preference.  That's when you can really have an aha moment and say, "That one's really nice!"

If you continue to give your host feedback on how you like the wines, you'll often find them saying, "Ok, if you really like that one, here's another you might like."  And often, those will be wines that are not on the standard tasting menu.  Remember, they are hoping to sell you wine, and if they can find a wine that you think is amazing, you'll both benefit.

Also remember to take your time.  Don't rush through the tastings.  Plan to spend 30-60 minutes in the tasting room.  Use the time to listen to your host, ask questions and learn.  They'll not only tell you about the wines, but also give you details about the vineyards, the owner, and the wine maker.  It's these little tidbits that make a difference in your appreciation of the winery and their wines.

And, please, let your host do all the work. They are there to serve you. Let them direct the tasting, do the pouring and manage your glass.  Usually your glass will not require rinsing, but if it does, let your server take care of it. They'll usually rinse with wine, not water, since the water can leave behind unwanted flavors. But, you can feel free to dump any remaining wine from your glass in the dump bucket, that's fine.

You may also want to eat a water cracker or un-seasoned bread stick in between each wine, just to neutralize your pallet. That can help you re-set your taste buds in preparation for the next wine.

And once you get through the tasting list, you are allowed to "revisit" a wine.  This gives you the opportunity to retry the wine to confirm your initial impressions and make final decisions on wine purchases.

There are also a bunch of do's and don'ts when wine tasting. So, we'll address wine tasting etiquette next time. Until then, cheers!


How Does a Winery Tasting Room Work?

You've got your winery maps, eaten some food, packed a lunch, snacks and water, got your special offers, and have an extra cooler for any wine purchases you might make, and now it's time to hit the road and visit a winery.

When you arrive at the winery, you will see signs directing you to the tasting room. Don't be tempted to poke your head into any of the other buildings or walk in the vineyard. They'll let you know if tours are available.  So head on into the tasting room. Once you enter the tasting room you'll be greeted by your host behind the serving bar and asked "Are you here to do wine tasting?" After a resounding "Yes!" you'll be presented with a menu of tasting options. This is a good point to present any coupons or special offers to see how that may affect your options.  

A winery's tasting menu is usually a single list but occasionally you'll have the option of either tasting their standard wines, or for a slightly higher price, you'll have the opportunity to taste their premium wines. The tasting menu will vary depending on what the winery produces and what is still in-stock. But, generally the list will start off with the lighter flavored wines (whites and rosés) and work up to the bigger bolder red wines, and sometimes you'll finish with a late-harvest (sweet) dessert wine.

Be open minded with the list of wines that are being offered.  You may believe that you only like whites or only like reds, but here's your opportunity to try some other wines.  This is a great way to broaden your wine experience and discover new wines.  But, you can certainly tailor the wine tasting menu. If you know you just want to try red wines, you can go straight to them and skip all the others. And, be aware that sharing a single tasting glass with another person is often acceptable. But ask just to be sure.

Now it's time to taste! You'll be presented with a glass that you'll use throughout the tastings that you choose. With each taste, your host will generally pour approximately 1 oz of wine in your glass.  Yes, 1 oz.  It's just a taste. Take note of the color of the wine, give it a swirl and smell the aroma. Then, sip a bit of wine letting it briefly stay on your tongue. At this point you can swallow, or if you choose, you can spit the wine into the provided bucket.  It's perfectly acceptable and a good option if you are doing a lot of tastings within a day.  But, make the 1 oz pour last for two or three sips.  You'll want to take note of your first impressions and then return for another sip to confirm you impressions.  You might also want to take some simple notes as you go. Usually the menu presented to you is available for note taking.

O.K.  So you've had your first sip! The journey has just begun.  And there's so much more to experience while at the tasting bar.  We'll get into that next time. For now, cheers!

How to Prepare for a Day of Wine Tasting

Maybe you are asking yourself "You need to prepare to go wine tasting?  Really?"  And, the answer is absolutely, positively, yes!  That is, if you want to have an enjoyable experience.

As mentioned last time, do your homework and pick a small region to visit, choose 3-4 wineries in close proximity, and do a little research about them on-line.  Especially look up the days and hours they are open. Finding the tasting room door locked is not fun; take it from experience.

Before you set out, check winery websites, Groupon and, if you are staying in a hotel, check with the front desk. There are wine coupons to be had.  You'll find everything from complimentary tastings, 2-for-1 tastings, and discounts on wine purchases. And, if you happen be going to Sonoma, in Northern California, take your Visa Signature Card.  It gets you complimentary tastings and discounts at more than 60 wineries in the area.  See the Visa Signature Card website for a complete listing of wineries with this offer.

Then there's food.  Ensure you eat a meal before heading out to taste wines. Each winery will usually offer five or more wines to taste.  With a one ounce 'taste' of each, you can end up drinking the equivalent of one or more glasses of wine (a typical glass of wine is 5 ounces). Or you may choose to spit or dump, but we'll address that another time. Also, pack a lunch. Many wineries have picnic grounds that you can use. I'd recommend visiting one winery, finding a good place for a picnic, then moving on to the next winery. And you should also have snacks in between winery visits.  Crackers, cheeses, nuts, mild dried meats, nothing spicy. Oh, and don't chew gum or eat mints in between wine tastings.  They really throw off your pallet. And, hydrate!  You need to be drinking the equivalent of a bottle of water with every winery stop.

Finally, along with your cooler full of lunch and snack items, take another cooler along.  You'll need it for safely protecting any bottles you purchase along the way.  Never leave a bottle of wine sitting in the car or trunk unprotected.  It will bake!

Whew!  That's a bunch of things to think about!  But, you'll have a much better wine tasting experience with proper preparation.  Next time we'll get into what goes on in the tasting room. Until then, Cheers!

Planning a Trip to Wine Country

A trip to the wine country to visit wineries and do wine tasting is a great adventure. But to get the most from your trip, planning is imperative.

Before you head out, do some research.  The wine country is full of wineries that all have websites and social media ready for you. And, usually the wine region, or in the U.S., the AVA (American Viticultural Area), will also have on-line resources.  And maps are a great place to start.

When you are going wine tasting, you will want to focus on a particular area or wine style.  So, just planning a wine tasting trip to Sonoma isn't specific enough.  You'll want to focus in on one region each day, such as Alexander Valley.  Once you find on-line resources for the particular region, ensure that you learn what wines the region is best known for producing.  Then, find a winery map and look at the wineries in the area.  Even with an AVA such as Alexander Valley, there are dozens of wineries. So, to narrow it down, see if there are any wineries you recognize.  It's always fun to visit a winery where you already know something about their wines. Then, pick two or three more in the vicinity.  You'll find that visiting 3-4 wineries can fill your day.

Once you narrow it down to a handful of wineries that you'd like to visit, check out their websites for the days and hours that they are open.  Wineries tend to open no earlier than 10 am and generally close by 5 pm.  And, many may only be open for a limited number of days, usually centered on the weekend.

Then look to see if reservations are required.  Usually, if you have a group of six or more, a reservation will be required.  Also, check to see what amenities the winery offers. See if they offer tours, food service, or have picnic grounds.  And, before you go, see if the winery lists their prices for wine tasting.

Doing a bit of prep work will really pay off before getting to wine country.  Next time we'll address final preps and the items to take with you to the wineries. Cheers!