With all the travel plans fueled by visits to drink and food hubs, it’s worth considering what to do when it comes to wine tasting room “etiquette.” By planning ahead, keeping an open mind, knowing when to sip, dump or swallow and taking in water ahead of your wine, will keep you well-prepared and allow you to enjoy all that wine country travel has to offer.
While many tasting rooms are open to the public 24/7, there are plenty that have abbreviated hours or run tastings by appointment only.
If in doubt, call ahead, especially if you have a larger group (typically over 8) or would like to jump on a tour and tasting. Spontaneous sipping more your style? Love to pull into a winery on a whim? Then stick with larger producers that are better equipped to handle pop-ins and drive-bys with ease.
To spit or not to spit (is that really the question?)
If you will be stopping at multiple wineries and trying to taste multiple wines at each, then by all means spit (some). If you have pre-planned key stops and are taking the quality vs. quantity route through wine country, then yes take and enjoy small sips of wine along the way. Most tasting room pours weigh in at about 1.5 ounces, if you drink three pours from start to finish, then you’ll have a one glass of wine on board when you leave. If you are moving through a long list of wineries in a day (not necessarily a good plan), then take a small sip or two from each and dump the rest, unless the wine really wows! In that case, buy a bottle and enjoy more at home.
Tasting and Tips
Tips? Yeah or Nay? It depends. Some wineries appreciate the tips for a job well done, with generous pours, a little education and a welcoming way. Others, prefer to save that nod for wine bars and consider tasting room etiquette in the same vein as having guests over to share a glass with no tips required (or expected). If you’ve paid a hefty tasting fee and plan to buy a bottle or two, tipping may become a moot point. If you’ve paid a minimal tasting fee and don’t plan on buying a bottle, then consider tipping out of courtesy.
Leave the Aromas to the Wine
Wine tasting rule #1 remains, do not wear perfume, cologne, heavy aftershave, scented lotions or crazy amounts of essential oils to a wine tasting. Why? Not only do overpowering perfumes and fragrances knock out the wine’s innate smells for you, but they will also hinder other tasting room guests’ aromatic experiences.
Buy the Bottle or By the Glass
Most wineries charge a tasting fee to run through a series of wine; however, these fees are often waived if you buy a bottle or two while you’re there. Always ask. Not interested in purchasing a bottle? Then just view the tasting fee as buying a flight of wine, where you taste a variety of options by the glass.
Wine Bar vs. Wine Tasting
There is a difference. Wine bars are built to be lively, entertaining environments where patrons are there to converse (carouse?) and enjoy a glass or two with food and friends. Winery tasting rooms tend to steer towards conversations about the wines themselves, the winery’s history, philosophy and current projects – way more “show and tell” than “party on.”
Water to Wine
Moderation is the name of the game in all wine tasting formats. If you plan to hit three or four wineries in a day, then pace yourself accordingly. Small sips vs. big gulps will point you in the right direction, but even more important is to be mindful of your water consumption. Always maintain a 2:1 ratio of water to wine. Meaning two glasses of water for every glass of wine you consume (with a “glass” of wine weighing in at 4 to 5 ounces). Buy a few bottles of bottled water to have on hand throughout the day. To play it safe and stay hydrated, try to knock back a 16 ounce bottle of water at every stop.
Eat breakfast, stop for lunch and grab a snack while tasting wine. Some wineries will have tasting options that include food pairings, a good plan on many fronts. You will enjoy the wine more and absorb less alcohol if you keep your tummy full.
Breaking out the “Good Stuff”
While it would be nice to sample the winery’s best collections, library wines and participate in their vertical vintage tastings, all of these things come at a price. Ask about reserve tastings or special winemaker dinners and sign-up for email or text notifications, but don’t ask them to break out the best on a whim. It just doesn’t happen.
Maintain an Open Wine-mind
Know what you like and why you like it? Good. But maintain an open mind to trying new grapes, different styles and various vintages, just in case. Visitors that declare, “I only drink reds” immediately forsake meeting an absolutely stunning Viognier, off-dry sparkler or intensely aromatic Gewurztraminer. Always shun sweet wines, you never know, you could be wowed by an incredibly food-friendly off-dry Riesling or somewhat sweet late harvest Zinfandel.
By Stacy Slinkard, About