How to Ace Your Next Visit to a Wine Tasting Room
Visiting a winery, especially for the first time, can be intimidating and uncomfortable, but if you follow these tips and put yourself in the right frame of mind, visiting wineries can be one of the most rewarding, fun and educational things you do on your wine journey.
The first thing you want to do is make a plan of which wineries you want to visit, noting their location, creating an order that makes the most sense, and then be sure to call or check online to see if an appointment is necessary. You may want to do this weeks in advance if possible to increase the likelihood that you can make the appointment.
Tip: when researching the winery websites, pay attention for special events, or special tastings they may offer. Sometimes, these will cost a little extra but they can give invaluable access to winery staff, the grounds, and special wines, all of which will help build your knowledge about wine and winemaking. Some tastings come with food pairings (always recommended), while others may give you a chance to blend different varietals and sample the results.
Once you have a plan, the most important thing is to be on time, if not a few minutes early. Vineyards are beautiful places and visitors are frequently encouraged to walk around, so take advantage of being in a beautiful place and not having to rush around.
When you begin tasting, and wine is poured, start slow, look at the color, give it a smell. Don’t just slam it down and look for the next glass. Make a point to not drink faster than the majority of people joining you, or if you have a host sampling with you, consume at the same pace as he or she does.
As you’re sampling, spend most of your time listening to what the host tells you about the wine and how it was made, but don’t be afraid to ask questions or inquire further about something they say. Hosts at wineries love their jobs as you can imagine, and will be more than happy to answer your questions or delve deeper into areas they think you and the group are more interested in.
Also, remember it is 100% ok to spit the wine out, regardless if it’s a sample of the winery’s prized estate red. Remember the reason for you being there. It’s a tasting, not a pre-funk before a football game. The idea is to taste, to learn, to find elements you like, and maybe others you don’t. If you want to party down wait until that evening, or when you get home and buy a full bottle of the wine to drink to your fancy.
Related to this, is the fact that you shouldn’t ask your host to pour you more wine. Don’t hold your glass out looking for them to tip the bottle your way. Sometimes, they may ask if there was a wine that you particularly enjoyed and they will pour you more. But their goal is to let you sample the wines, develop an idea for what’s offered, and of course, they’d love to sell you a few bottles too.
Depending on the environment and what country you’re tasting in, tips are generally not necessary, unless a host goes above and beyond. I’ve had several occasions where I was presented with higher end bottle tastings that were not on the regular menu. In cases like this, a tip makes sense, and most of the hosts or serving staff will accept them.
Whatever you do, don’t drink too much and then show up to a winery at the end of the day half in the bag and unable to discern what you’re drinking. That’s really seen as an insult to the tasting rooms that are trying to provide a fun, and relaxed environment for their patrons.
More than anything, relax and have fun. Dress smart but comfortable. Don’t wear perfume or cologne. Don’t drink too much. Spit when you start to feel a buzz. Ask questions. Listen. Talk to the people around you because everyone is there for the same reason. And enjoy some good wine because it usually tastes best when you’re standing next to where the grapes were grown.
[I’ve written more on this subject in a story for the Huffington Post, 7 Ways to Look Like a Pro in a Wine Tasting Room]
Any other notes for tasting rooms from your experiences? What have you seen in tasting rooms, good or bad? Let us know in the comments below.