Here is a list of helpful pointers to remember when going wine tasting. I wrote this with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, so no need to be offended by the intensities. I hope you have this memorized by heart the next time you plan on visiting some tasting rooms. The most important thing to remember is to have fun. I welcome any questions one might have. Cheers!….
Wine Lover’s Resources
- The Big List of Wine Tasting Rooms in California’s Wine Country
- Let’s go wine tasting! Get the lowest prices on Wine Tasting & Winery Tours
- Wine Tasting Near Downtown Napa
- 10 Wineries You Should Visit in Wine Country
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SCENT. Don’t wear heavy colognes or perfumes because it will be distracting and those around you from smelling the wine aromas, which is an intricate part of wine tasting. Also, if you smoke…don’t do it before or during your tasting because, like the colognes and perfumes, it will interfere with enjoying the wine and appreciating its distinct aromas. If you want to pair your cigarettes with your wine, do it at home where no one else will be offended.
ATTIRE. Some people think that wine tasting means you have to wear your Sunday best. I may not necessarily speak for everyone in the industry on my feelings regarding the issue of dress, but I believe that wine should not be pretentious. Unfortunately, the Napa Valley has generated a snobby reputation that has put-off the idea of wine tasting for many. Dress comfortably….dress however you want. If anyone gives judgmental vibes, then they are the ones who will appear amateur as well as rude.
LADIES. Don’t wear heavy lipstick or lip gloss…someone actually cleans the glasses (or at least handles them) and seeing your “gunk” on the glass is just gross. What has mixed in with the makeup anyways (my guess is food, saliva, plaque, and germs)?
YOUNG’UNS. For all the young yuppie parents who strive to appear cultured….please don’t drag your darling undisciplined children out wine tasting. The kids don’t want to be there, and their unrestrained hyper behavior is not wanted in a tasting room. Sorry…we don’t find their behavior cute, funny, or bearable. They distract other wine tasters and prevent the host from providing information on the wines. Bottom line: Don’t go wine tasting and bring along your kids. Wineries are not theme parks or daycare centers.
WINE SPEAK. Please don’t come into tasting rooms and brag about how much of a wine-o you are and how much wine you buy. Also, don’t try to talk “wine speak” like you know what you’re talking about…it just makes you look silly (i.e. “Oh wow look at those legs!” “Oh, that has too many tannins for my taste. It’s really tannic.” “Oh yeah… that was a really good year!” “Merlot sucks” “Yeah I only drink really good wines…like Rombauer Chardonnay and Silver Oak.” “Oh, that’s pretty oaky.” “How long can you age this wine? [oh what…like you have a giant cellar and buy wines to age them 20 years? Then why are you showing up with complimentary tasting coupons or so concerned with a tasting fee?!]). Being overeager in asking about the wine club before or right after the first taste is a sure sign that you are probably not really serious about it.
FLIGHT LIST. Wine hosts find it rude when you stick your glass in their face and say ” I’m on #3 (etc).” Each wine is crafted specifically, and if you do not even know what you’re tasting then why are you there? The wine host should give you plenty of information on what you’re drinking so kindly pay attention so they are not wasting their breath. Also, you do not need to strive for the aromas and tastes that the tasting sheet/wine descriptors suggest. Some people think that by exclaiming, “Ooh! I really taste the graphite in this one!” that they are ‘correctly’ identifying the profile of the wine. While those who write the descriptors (often the winemaker) have ample experience tasting wines, there is also a flair for the dramatic and romantic when poetically describing them. Let’s get real: Is an essay on what you believe (or want others to believe) about the wine really necessary? Sometimes the descriptors can be fun to read but don’t take it as gospel. At the end of the day, it’s all relative and you like what you like.
POURS. One is not obligated to drink everything that’s poured for them. So there is no need to remind the wine host every time he or she pours that you want just a “teeny teeny” bit. We get it, you are not trying to get drunk (kudos)…but don’t be obnoxious or OCD with the size of the wine pours. There is no need to feel guilty about dumping wine…that’s part of the wine tasting experience and something that proprietors generally understand when opening a tasting room. The costs are covered. Also, there is no need to rinse your glass with water in between tasting wines. Water dilutes the wine post-rinse. When switching over from whites to reds, kindly ask for a rinse (the wine host should pour you a small amount of the red wine in your glass. swirl it and then dump it. the host will then fill our glass with a taste of the red wine). Honestly, using water as a rinse is not a huge deal…but if you want to get the best expression of the wine it is better to use the wine itself as a rinse.
MORE WINE? Want to try any additional wines that possibly might be opened that are not on the ‘tasting list?’ Then act like you’re really interested in the wines. Ask questions (there is really no dumb question if it’s sincere), as wine tasting can be just as educational as it is tasty. Bring a notepad if you wish, as it will come in handy when trying to recall the wines (the technical information as well as your own personal feelings about it) as well as make you appear to be serious. There are also some great wine apps to help keep track of what you try as well such as Delectable and Vivino. Wine hosts are eager to please and impress those who are genuine in their quest for knowledge. I should also note that there is nothing wrong with going wine tasting as an experience rather going on a quest for good wines, as there are wineries that focus on “experience” and there are wineries that just focus on wine.
POST-TASTING. There is no obligation to buy wine and a hospitable, professional host will not pressure you…but for the love of Bob, don’t pretend like you’re REALLY interested in buying by saying/doing one of the following: “Can I buy these wines online?” “Can I take your pricing sheet with me? We just got into town and we’re going to taste around, but we’ll come back to buy some bottles at the end.” Let’s just cut the bull…there’s no need to be anything but honest: “I really like the wines, but I’m not interested in purchasing today.” “I like the wines but I am looking to buy some at a different price point.” You will appear less silly, as wine hosts hear on a daily basis plenty of attempts to gracefully bow out of buying wine like they’re ashamed or embarrassed of it. It’s no big deal, so need to be dishonest.
LATE AFTERNOON TASTING. Most tasting rooms are flooded in the last hour that they are open with winetasters looking to get “one last drink” in before closing time. If a winery closes at 5:00 pm, don’t come in at 4:50 pm and expect to go through a flight. Last call is not at 5:00 pm, that’s when it closes. Most tasting rooms won’t start new flights fifteen minutes before close. Many that try to squeeze in one more tasting come to the tasting room at least buzzed and are not seriously interested in purchasing wine. Besides, the palate is usually shot from prior tastings so what’s the point if not trying to get your buzz on?
TIPPING. Winetasting is not like dining out, so a tip is not necessarily expected. If a wine host was genuine, kind, informative, and giving of their time…then tipping is a nice gesture, especially if you do not happen to buy any wine. The wise man says: “Those who tip, may get extra wine next time.”
LARGE GROUPS. Most tasting room hosts groan at the sight of limos, buses, or large parties coming in to “party taste.” Most higher-end wineries often won’t allow these groups to taste, especially without any kind of prior appointment. If you are going wine tasting in a large group, don’t act like a jackass. Be respectful of other people tasting because they don’t want to be distracted with your party-time vibe. Bachelorette parties are probably the worst…coming in with a sash and tiara is obnoxious and we will probably judge you for it. If you are tasting in a group of more than 4 people, it is always respectful to call the winery ahead of time and either make an appointment or see if there is time available to come in to taste. Smaller wineries often lack space or available time/labor to accommodate such groups. If you are going to be more than 10-15 minutes late to your appointment or you need to cancel, it is rude not to call ahead.