Legacy in a Glass - Wine Tastin Etiquette

Everybody climb aboard the party bus, it’s time to go wine tasting! Whether you’re a vino devotee or a new face on the wine scene, there are some basics you should consider when visiting a tasting room.


Plan your trip

Let’s start with logistics. A wine trip is always more fun with friends, so make your guest list first. If your list is lengthy, be aware that some wineries may not be able to accommodate a large group, especially with COVID-19 social distancing policies.

Now that you know who’s coming, think of where you’re going. The possibilities are limitless. Is this a quick excursion to one local spot or a long getaway complete with air travel? If this trip is one of the latter, make sure you consider how you’ll get your purchases home. There are services that ship wine — often in wine regions or at the wineries themselves.

Let’s say you are planning a trip for a group of six and rented a small bus for your four-stop wine tour. You’ll jaunt around the wine region of your choice — think Napa Valley, the Finger Lakes or Willamette Valley. Securing a designated driver or a guided tour is key to a safe and carefree day.

If you’re visiting wineries on a summer weekend, you’ll want a schedule. Make reservations wherever you can. A schedule will also keep your crew on track. When building out the plan, research tasting fees. Some places have fees for tastings while others are on-the-house or waived with the purchase of a bottle. You don’t want to be the person who brings your friends to a $50 wine tasting when they were expecting freebies.

We recommend that your schedule includes stops for meals, not just wine. Most wine regions have excellent restaurants nestled among — or even at — the wineries. You could also add a winery tour. This will give your group beautiful views and a new perspective on the winery.


Tasting room tips

Once you’ve arrived at the winery, there are a few tips that will help you, other tasters and the winery staff have the best time possible.

As we will discuss below, our noses are big players in the wine tasting game. Give yourself — and the noses around you —  a break by not wearing perfume or cologne to the wineries.

The folks holding the bottle at each wine stop are the experts. Give them your attention. A great tasting is always paired with good information, whether that’s tasting notes, winery history or meal suggestions. Asking questions and politely sharing your opinions on the wine makes for a lovely and engaging time.

We encourage you to tip your pourer, especially if they were informative. Similarly, if you liked any wine you tried, bring home a bottle. This obviously helps the winery, but it allows you to relive the memories of your visit.

Our final general tip is not to drink too much. Water, snacks and the spittoon (more on that in the tasting section) are your friends. Nobody wants to be that guy or girl in the tasting room.


Taste like a pro

Now that you’ve gotten to your tasting — sans perfume — it’s time to drink wine. Wine tasting is a full sensory experience. Get your eyes, nose and mouth involved for the best results.

First, look at the wine in your glass. Assess the clarity. Note the color. Are you looking at an opaque dark red or a shimmery pale yellow? Both offer useful hints about what you’re about to taste.

A good way to spot tasting room novices is by how they’re holding the wine glass. You should hold the stem, keeping your hand off the bowl of the glass. This helps maintain temperature and it keeps smudges off the elegant glass.

Now, it’s time to swirl: a gentle, circular movement of the hand that causes the wine to slosh, sophisticatedly, around the bowl. This isn’t just for show. Moving the wine around a bit evaporates some alcohol and releases aroma compounds. This is when your nose shines. Sniff the glass and see if you can place what you’re smelling. Is it fruit? Flowers? Leather? There are no wrong answers.

Finally, it’s time to bring glass to lips. When you take your first sip, swirl it around your mouth. Humans have different taste receptors on our tongues that perceive the five basic tastes (sweet, bitter, salt, sweet and umami). Put your whole tongue to work by coating your mouth with wine.

Both wine and our senses are complicated. If your first taste isn’t a homerun, give it another sip. There is a chance your palate needs another mouthful or two to properly assess the wine. There’s an equal chance that this wine isn’t for you; if so, move on.

Speaking of moving on, there’s no shame in spitting out wine at a winery. It’s totally acceptable to spit or dump wine that you don’t care for. It’s also recommended to use the dump bucket if you have a long day of tastings planned. Remember, you don’t want to be that guy.

The final step of wine tasting is the same as shampooing: rinse and repeat. Cleanse your palette in between pours with water or a neutral snack like crackers. Then start back at the beginning.

Now that we’ve reached the end of our imaginary journey through wine country, we could use a nice glass ourselves. Who’s with us?

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