Your Guide to the Do’s and Don’ts During Your Visit
I can’t think of a better way to spend a day than visiting wineries and tasting. It is a perfect opportunity to try new wines, find new varietals and learn more about the winemaking process and usually in an idyllic setting. The first time I ventured out I was really clueless about the experience and what to expect and I must admit it was a bit intimidating. Luckily my first endeavor resulted in a great experience and one that lead to my love to all things wine country!
There are some things I learned the hard way and wish someone had shared with me from the beginning. And there are some common winery etiquette practices that even more experienced “tasters” don’t always follow. So here are a few sage pieces of advice to help ensure the wine tasting experience is good for everyone.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE PREP – plan ahead to ensure you make the most of your day.
- How many wineries to visit – on average 3-4 stops are ideal. You’ll generally spend an hour at each plus need to factor in a lunch stop and driving time between wineries. Most open at 11:00 and close around 5:00 so 4 wineries in 6 hours is perfect.
- Do your research – check out the wineries you plan to visit (a great place to start is Which Winery – http://www.whichwinery.com) to ensure you have details about hours, wine varietals they offer, pricing of wine and tasting fee, pet-friendly, picnic space, etc. The last thing you want to do is end up at a winery with wines that are out of your price range or a selection of wines that would not be your first choice (or even 2nd or 3rd). If you plan to bring Fido along – be sure the wineries on your list are pet-friendly.
- Sustenance – throughout the day you’ll consume the equivalent of 2-3 glasses of wine (or more). Start with a good breakfast and pack a lunch. Filling a cooler with a selection of cheeses, meats, olives, bread and crackers along with several bottles of water will make for a perfect lunch. Typically the 2nd stop of the day is an ideal stopping point for lunch – most wineries have a picnic area and you can do your tasting during lunch (note – NEVER bring in wine from another winery to have with your lunch). Be sure to drink a bottle of water for every glass of wine you drink to stay hydrated.
THE POUR – what to expect
- Pony-up – each winery will generally offer a 1 oz. tasting of 5-7 wines. The fee will range anywhere from $5 to $25 but is often times waived with the purchase of a wine. HINT: some wine regions offer a tasting pass. This is a pass to visit and taste at several wineries for one flat fee at a discounted rate. During the research process be sure to check out wine region websites to see if you can find any.
- Do you share? – if you are tasting with a friend it’s ok to share a tasting rather than each of you doing your own. Still a great way to try all the wines for half the fee. Although most wineries are fine with sharing, ask to confirm.
- The menu – a list of wines offered for the tasting will be provided along with details about the wine. Some wineries may just have a specific selection of wines they are pouring while other wineries may give you a list of options and you choose the wines that you are interested in trying.
- Think outside of the box – this experience is all about trying and finding new wines. Don’t stick to the varietals you know, venture into tasting things you’ve never tried before. It’s a great way to expand your horizons and your palette.
- Know-it-all – while not all winery associates know everything about wine, most are well versed in the wines they are pouring. They will gladly share information about the wines, the region, the production process and more. ASK questions to absorb some great knowledge and information.
- Time for the S’s – any wine drinking experience (whether in a tasting room or at home) should include the basics of tasting See, Swirl, Smell, and Sip. (for the basics of wine tasting refer to my other article) Keep in mind that it sometimes takes 3-4 sips to determine if you really like the wine or not. Don’t rush to judge.
- Spit, swallow or dump – part of tasting is to sample as many wines as possible without overdoing it or wearing out your palette. In order to do that it requires not drinking everything you try. One option is to “spit” (take a sip, swirl it around in your mouth to get the taste of it and then spit it out). While that method is acceptable, most people don’t do that. The best option is to “dump” (take 2-4 sips of the wine and pour out the rest without finishing the full pour). Dumping is also acceptable and even encouraged whether you like the wine or not. No feelings are harmed when utilizing this method.
Now what – you’ve gone through your tasting, here’s what’s next
- Rerun – can’t remember what you tried at the beginning of the tasting? Ask to “revisit” one of the previous wines. The winery associate is usually always happy to give you another taste.
- Is that ALL there is? – if you’ve just tasted some amazing wines and want more you can ask if they have any specials (library or reserve) wines open to try.
- To buy or not to buy – while it’s not required that you purchase wine it is a good idea to buy at least one bottle as a courtesy. If they have given you a taste of something not on the list or the service has been exceptional, it is highly encouraged to consider buying a couple of bottles.
- In it for the long haul – most wineries will offer a wine club. Wine clubs are auto-delivery of wines sent sometimes monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually. Joining a wine club with a winery where you particularly enjoyed their selections is a great way to enjoy them at home, especially if they don’t sell their wines at a store or restaurant near you.
- Here’s a tip – tipping varies from winery to winery and is completely optional. Some wineries may have a tip jar out, while others may not allow tipping. If service was good tip away.
With a little research and some good preparation exploring wine regions, visiting wineries and discovering new wines can be a relaxing and fun experience.
In the words of Ernest Hemingway “A person with increasing knowledge and sensory education may derive infinite enjoyment from wine”. So venture out there to Sip, Swirl and Enjoy!