Like most things in life, there is a right way and a wrong way to visit a winery’s tasting room. OK, there isn’t JUST ONE right way, and we’ve all seen a wide range of wrong ways, too, but the point is that a little thought and empathy for other people can go a long way. Here are some easy tips on tasting etiquette that we have observed over the years.
Tip 1) Share the bar
Most tasting rooms are small, especially during their peak visitor times. Don’t hog ten feet of bar space, share with the crowd. If there are more people than bar space, get your glass filled and then step back to let someone else have the same joy. Wine tasting is a social event, meet new people by sharing that most valuable of real estate, bar space!
Tip 2) It is called tasting, not pounding
Without question, you will develop a bit of a buzz during an afternoon of tasting, which is why a designated driver is so important. When you consider that every taste is about an ounce of wine, its easy to see how things can get blurry by the third winery. Have a strategy to cope, including a pre-tour meal, lots of water between wineries and snacks in the car for frequent breaks. Many wineries have picnic tables available, so break out the cheese and baguettes after the second winery. If, however, your primary goal is to get loaded, then check out the bar scene instead.
Tip 3) Let the wine provide the fragrance
Perfume is wonderful at the right time and place. A winery is not the place, though. The wine’s bouquet will be smothered by your “Eau de Dead Flowers” . The same advice goes out to smokers. Please let the cigarette smoke waft off of your clothing before entering the tasting room. Wine is smelled before it is tasted and the best aromas are the delicate ones.
Tip 4) Wine tasting is not a group sport
Filling a party bus with bridesmaids? Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials, but could you tell the driver you really want to visit Tequila Willly’s instead? Everyone in the tasting room will appreciate it. Chartering a limousine for your office mates? Realize that when your long black car pulls up, everyone in the tasting room is sighing and preparing to leave. Exception: the large wineries have capacity and noise management sufficient to handle big, somewhat inebriated busloads. Give them a visit and leave the smaller wineries to the smaller groups.
Tip 5) The winery is not a non-profit
Have your heard the joke, “How do make a small fortune in the wine business? Start with a large one.” The wine maker is offering a tasting room experience hoping to gain customers. Remember that everyone needs to make a living, even wine makers. Pay the tasting fee (don’t slink out right before the last taste) or buy a bottle of wine that appeals to you. The only way you can continue to enjoy wine tasting is by having the wineries continue to be financially viable.
Tip 6) Your wine guide is working
The person pouring your wine is working. Yes, they are friendly and really knowledgeable about their wine, but don’t monopolize their time or try to get their number. They are probably trying to serve several groups of tasters, and everyone should have access to this charming and witty wine guide.
Tip 7) Be good to each other
Winery tasting rooms foster a feeling of community that is hard to duplicate. Regardless of your wine knowledge or palate, you are part of this community as soon as you enter. Keep the vibe warm and welcoming. Greet newcomers and introduce yourself to your wine guide. Learn about people’s connection to the winery and their favorite varietals. Strengthen and extend the love of wine and winery touring by helping newcomers find their way and learn from the tasting room “regulars” what makes each winery special. Try to meet the winemaker (another reason we LOVE small wineries) and learn about his or her approach to wine making and the connections with other wineries in the region. The interconnectedness of wineries is stunning, once the curtain is drawn back. Over time, the themes and influences from winery to winery will become clear. A whole new world to explore!
Tip 8) Those fish crackers aren’t your lunch
Many tasting rooms have small crackers or bit of cheese on the bar. This is for cleansing your palate. This is not lunch by the hands-full. Remember Tip7? You should have started with a meal and packed a snack or two. Forgot? Many wineries have a deli counter, so spring for something yummy and leave the fish crackers after one handful.
Tip 9) Wine knowledge is not evenly distributed
It is almost like a math problem: no matter how much you know about wine, there will always be someone who knows more, and someone who knows less. Wine tasting is not the time to try to impress strangers with the depth of your wine knowledge. Don’t engage in a game of “stump the champ” with your wine guide. Let everyone form their own opinions about the wine being tasted. Not everyone’s palate will match yours, but that needs to be OK. Wouldn’t it be sad if there was only one, best wine in the world?
Tip 10) This is not a race
Wine tasting is a leisurely experience. Let the process proceed at its own pace. If you have a rigid timetable, maybe today isn’t the best day for wine tasting. Everyone around you is there for a relaxed tasting, and they don’t need you to push for “More Speed!” If you keep checking your wristwatch you will probably spill wine on yourself anyway.
These tips are drawn from our own observations. You may not agree with some of them, and you may have some additional tips to offer (that comment button is right down there, click it!) for the betterment of mankind. Observing some common courtesy and what Mom called “basic manners” can go a long way toward making everyone’s wine tasting experience that much more enjoyable.
About the Author: John grills a mean steak and is always in the market for another wine fridge. Believes that if a winery has more than 10 employees, it's probably too big. Buys wine faster than he drinks it, but who cares?