Wine Tasting Etiquette: Dos and Don'ts
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Ms. Wine-Manners goes tasting
Picture this. You’ve just taken a sip of his wines and are about to spit so you can talk to him about how amazing the wines are. Just then, someone butts in front of you, blocking the spit bucket. You gulp… narrowly avoiding a dry-cleaning bill.
As anyone who’s gone to a lot of wine tastings knows, there’s an unspoken etiquette involved. Following it will make the tasting more enjoyable.
So, before you go to your next tasting, here are some highlights of Wine Etiquette 101:
• Remember to not hog the table. Once you get a sip of wine, you should then move to the side or out of the way so that others can be poured. If you want to ask the winemaker a question, move to the side then wait for a moment when there are fewer people.
• Don't carry a big purse or computer case into the tasting. Bumping other tasters with your stuff as they balance wine glasses can make the tasting less enjoyable.
• When you ask for a taste, ask for the wine by name or varietal.
• It is not necessary to rinse your glass with water between each wine (or even each table). Water has a big diluting effect on the wine to come. You only need to rinse your glass with water is if the wine you just tried was flawed. Shake the water out well (or dry the glass) before moving on.
• Spit. Don't be afraid to spit. At a tasting you are not expected to drink or like every wine poured for you.
• Don’t stand in front of the spit bucket or block other’s access to it (this should seem like basic self-preservation).
• Be considerate of all comments while in front of the producer.
• Know when it’s time to move to the next table.
• Don’t stand at the food table scarfing down all the cheese and appetizers. This is a wine tasting; not dinner.
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7 Do's and Don'ts of Talking About Wine to a Non-Wine Crowd
It's no secret that wine people can come off as a little cultish, with their special vocabulary, tasting rituals and intensely focused gatherings. Yet it's an interesting hobby in the sense that it bumps up against the real world on a regular basis—at meal times, business dinners, and fun moments with friends and family. That means that wine people get to share wine with lots of folks who may not exactly have the same enthusiasm when it comes to talking about wine.
Having worked around wine and food for the better part of a decade, in such conversations, I hear a range of reactions from "Oh, I don't know anything about wine," to genuine excitement about learning something new.
But I was curious as to how these conversations sound to people who don't work in the wine industry, so I emailed some non-wine friends (promising anonymity) to see what they'd want to hear when talking to wine people. Most of their responses had to do with common-sense etiquette. Figuring it's always useful to have a reminder, I compiled some do's and don'ts from their responses.
Do be prepared for people to be intimidated. "I usually just run when people move beyond, 'This is good.' . Despite taking tasting courses and spending more time than I should at vineyards, I never know what to say about wine, and I definitely don't have the right vocabulary or a sensitive enough palate," said L. of Portland, Ore.
Do come prepared with a story about the wine if you brought it or picked it out. "Personal stories about how they found the wine, or the vineyard history, are cool I also like the science behind how certain wines are made and the history behind certain grapes and blends," said M. of Honolulu, Hawaii.
Don't get too technical or lecturing, and definitely avoid the jargon. "If the wine-speak is directed at me or someone at my ignorance level, and it's at all technical without the basics, I find it off-putting. [Wine] people need to be aware of their intended audience and put info into plain English," said I. of Toronto.
Don't go overboard with descriptors. A few are OK to get the ball rolling, but too many and you'll shut down the conversation. "Pick one taste that intrigues you . That way, when you ask someone else who's not as knowledgeable what they think, they can also identify one thing and feel like they're on par," said M. of Honolulu.
Don't do the full-on evaluation of a wine (swirl, sniff, slurp) in social settings outside of a tasting, said M. of Boston. "I don't like to listen to people slurp." Save it for wine-obsessed company only.
Do find points of agreement on the wines you're drinking. "I just had a fun experience tasting wines to serve at my wedding reception. The store's resident wine expert gave us a few bottles of reds, whites and sparkling wines to try. It was actually really endearing to have the wine guy geek out on our choices," said P. of San Francisco.
Don't bring up price unless you're pointing out a value pick. "I get put off when people talk about how good expensive wines are and scoff at buying $10 bottles at Kroger," said C. of Houston.
Do you agree with these? Have any tips of your own? Leave them in the comments section.
Wine Press - Proper Wine Etiquette, Suggested Dos and Don’ts
This week’s wine column came to me in a flash while I was cycling this past Saturday morning.
Another rider was approaching me on a winding back road.
So I did what any normal cyclist would do.
It’s the polite thing to do.
But clearly, the approaching cyclist didn’t understand proper cycling etiquette. He rode right past me like I wasn’t even there without a wave or even a nod.
Cycling isn’t the only sport with a whole set of unwritten rules.
In tennis, the server traditionally sets the pace of play - unless you’re Rafael Nadal and you need an extra minute or so to adjust your shorts and your headband.
In skiing, the downhill skier always has the right of way.
And it’s not just sports. On the highway, no one would ever dream of passing on the right hand side - unless you live in Massachusetts, where the rules of road seem to be mere suggestions. At least, that’s how it seems to this Pennsylvania native.
And while I’m hesitant to call them rules, there are definitely certain ways to behave when it comes to wine.
Believe me. I know how fussy the world of wine can seem to many people. So please simply think of these dos and don’ts as mere suggestions. This is simply one wine lover’s observations on how to be a gracious host, guest or customer when it comes to wine.
So without further ado, here are my suggested dos and don’ts when it comes to wine. Hope you enjoy.
Protect Your Wine - Make sure you store your wine in a cool, dark place, especially red wine. Heat and light can be fatal for many great wines.
Ask Your Guests - If you’re having guests over for dinner, ask them if they like wine or certain wines in particular. It never hurts to ask and to not assume anything. And if they don’t like wine, don’t serve them wine. It’s that simple.
Keep It Light - If you’re not sure what wine to serve your guests, serve them a lighter wine, especially if they say they’re not big wine drinkers. And by lighter wines, I mean certain white wines (a chilled Pinot Grigio) or red wines (Merlot served at room temperature). Save the big, bold, robust wines for your fellow wine lovers.
Have A Backup - If you’re having another couple over for dinner, get more than just one or two different wines. Have a few backup wines in case of one of your wines isn’t to everyone’s liking. As a general rule of thumb, plan on at least a half bottle (two glasses) per person when trying to figure out how much wine to have on hand for dinner.
Don’t Show Off - If you know a lot about wine, don’t talk a lot about wine. Just tell your guests a few things about the wine you’re serving, like where it’s from or how it was aged. If they want to know more about they wine, they can ask.
Don’t Be Stingy - When pouring the wine, always pour your guest’s glasses first. And make sure you give them a generous amount of wine. This means you should fill roughly roughly one third of their glass with wine. Don’t be stingy. They’re your guests. Make them feel welcome.
Don’t Overdo It - I realize this suggestion and the last one might seem to be at complete odds with each other. But it’s important to respect your guest’s limits. Don’t serve too much wine. I realize that’s a delicate balance but that’s part of being a good host when it comes to wine.
Bring A Bottle - If you want to bring wine to a guest’s house, bring a bottle. One bottle is fine. Yon’t need to go overboard.
Spend $15 to $20 - If you’re not sure how much to spend on the wine you’re bringing, my advice is to buy one in the $15 to $20 range. You can find many great wines (especially from France’s Rhone region as well as Spain, Argentina and parts of Portugal) that taste great but won’t break the bank.
Talk About Their Wine - If your guests are serving wine, ask them about it. Where’s the wine from? Have they had it before? What do they like about it? Wine can be a fun topic of conversation between people. But again, don’t push it. If they’re not that into wine, consider keeping some of your thoughts to yourself.
Don’t Open Your Wine - If you bring a bottle of wine to a friend’s house, don’t assume they will open your wine. They may have carefully planned which wines to serve with dinner. And your interesting wine just might not be part of their plan. Your wine is a gift and they can choose when they want to enjoy your wine.
Don’t Pour The Wine - As tempting as it may be to pour yourself more wine, let the host decide how much everyone drinks. (Unless of course your host has made it clear that everyone should feel free to help themselves to whatever wines they want.) I realize this can be challenging if some hosts don’t seem to notice all the empty glasses around the table. But hopefully, they’ll realize when it’s time to refill everyone’s glasses.
Don’t Be Critical - If you don’t like the wine, don’t share your thoughts - unless you know the host really well and you both talk about wine a lot together. You’re not judging a wine competition. You’re enjoying a meal in a friend’s house and the wine just happens to be bad. It’s not the end of the world.
Ask For Advice - Many restaurants have someone who works there who knows a lot about wine. Sometimes, it’s the sommelier. Other times, it’s the owner of the restaurant or your waiter. Ask them if they have any recommendations. They should know their wine list best. Get their advice.
Explain Your Budget - Don’t be afraid to tell your sommelier or server how much you would like to spend on a bottle of wine. It’s totally acceptable and honestly appreciated by the people working in the restaurant. Trust me. I used to work in restaurants. This is completely acceptable to discuss your budget.
Offer A Taste - If your server selected a great wine for you, feel free to offer them a taste of the bottle of wine. They might say no, but it’s the polite thing to do.
Don’t Be Rude - Wine is meant to be a fun part of having dinner in a restaurant. And that applies to dealing with the server when it comes to ordering and tasting the wine. If you don’t like their recommendation, simply explain the types of wines you normally like. Hopefully, they can point you in the right direction towards a wine your might enjoy.
Don’t Order For Everyone - If you’re with a group of people and not everyone wants wine, don’t try to push other people to drink wine just because you would like to order a bottle. I know how frustrating it can be when you’re in a restaurant with a great wine list with lots of amazing wines only available by the bottle. But that’s the way it is sometimes. Order a glass instead and let everyone else order what they want.
Don’t Brag - If everyone decides to let you order the wine for the table, accept the honor graciously and don’t brag. This applies to dealing with the sommelier or your server. Believe me. If you know a lot about wine, they’ll pick up on it. Just explain what type of wine you’re interested in ordering and let the great wine you selected speak for itself.
Ask For Recommendations - Here again, definitely feel free to ask for a recommendation from an employee working in a wine store. I used to work in one years ago and knew the wines on the shelf very well. I also loved recommended wines to people who wanted some suggestions, including my wife, who I met in a wine store.
Explain Your Budget - People working in a wine store should be there to help you. And part of that is knowing how much money you’re willing to spend on a bottle of wine and how many wines you’re thinking of buying. Again, if you’re having another couple over for dinner, plan on buying at least three, different bottles of wine - two for dinner (perhaps one red and one white) and a third one just in case one of the wines doesn’t taste quite right or everyone wants to dry a different wine.
Always Be Polite - If the wine store is busy, don’t push ahead of someone else or monopolize the employee’s time. Simply wait your turn just like everyone else. Or simply pick out a few wines on your own. The bottom line is a good wine store employee can be a great friend to have for many different reasons.
25. Toasting Technique
When you’re toasting with wine glasses, be sure to clink bell to bell. This reduces the chance of breakage and spillage. By holding your glass by the stem, you won’t warm up your chilled wine with the heat from your hand.
26. Avoid Messy Glassware
Drink from the same location on your wine glass to avoid the mouth marks, especially if you are wearing lipstick.
27. Take Time to Sniff
Take the time to sniff the wine, which lets your taste buds pick up the subtle flavors of the wine. If you have a cold, you probably won’t be able to appreciate the wine to its fullest, because taste relies on smell.
28. Take the Time to Taste
When taking the first sip, let the wine linger on your taste buds. Don’t drink in full gulps, but let your palette experience the full taste of the wine. The first taste tells you a lot about the wine, but so does the aftertaste.
29. Bring an Offering
Bringing a bottle of wine to your hostess or host is always a hit, but don’t be offended if your bottle isn’t shared during the meal. If the dinner was planned with a particular wine and food pairing in mind, your bottle may not fit into that scheme. To have your wine shared during dinner, talk to the host and let them know.
About Our Team
Erin is a native Austinite that loves writing, wikipedia, online window-shopping for home goods, and riding on airplanes. When not writing articles at work, you can probably find her winding down with a glass of wine, a book, and her two favorite neurotic cats.
Thank you for all the time and energy which obviously went into this. If I’m a Sonoma Pinot noir guy- how do I best ask for a wine with the same qualities? Thank you!!
Thanks for the article! I thought it was interesting that you suggest making appointments to test the wine as well as pacing yourself when you are just trying the wines. Another cool suggestion is to eat something before going to a wine tasting when alcohol enters the bloodstream it becomes difficult not to become drunk by drinking too much. Drinking twice as much water as you drink alcohol will help you stay sober throughout the tasting as well. I really appreciate your input on wine tastings, I hope to be able to apply these tips in the future.
I had always thought that it was more impolite not to finish a glass of wine. Now that I think of it, it probably is annoying to have someone place their glass against the bottle. Next time, I will be sure to simply ask for a smaller portion. Thank you for all of the helpful etiquette tips, I will definitely keep these in mind!
I appreciate your tip to try a variety of different wine. I know that there are certain foods that I thought I wouldn’t like, but then I tried them and I ended up really liking them. It might be good to write down all the wines you do like so that you can remember exactly which ones you want to buy later on.
If you are a wine taster, I think you should be sure to try everything, like you said. There is an unbelievable amount of different wines out there! You should consider ways to taste the wine with a fresh palate so that you can get the best idea of how it tastes.
I liked that you talked about avoiding a messy glass. I tend to wear red lipstick and it does seem like it would cause a mess. It seems like if I go to a wine event I should drink from the same spot.
Another important issue is that if you are an elderly person, travel insurance intended for pensioners is something you ought to really take into account. The old you are, a lot more at risk you are for having something negative happen to you while abroad. If you are definitely not covered by quite a few comprehensive insurance, you could have some serious issues. Thanks for giving your hints on this website.
Do you automatically open a guest’s bottle when they
Come over for a visit but no food is involved. Do you save it for a future and your consumption?
Typically when a guest brings a bottle of wine over for a meal without instruction, you should ask if they’d like it served with the meal. While your situation is different since no food is involved, I would still ask if they’d like the bottle opened and shared during the visit. This puts the decision back in their hands since they didn’t initially specify whether they wanted to enjoy it with you, or this is just a gift to enjoy at a later time.
Wine Tasting Etiquette: Dos and Don'ts - Recipes
Today I’d love to share 8 fun tips for drinking wine! It’s nerdy, but I like learning etiquette tips (do you?) and thought you might like to hear these fascinating wine dos and don’ts before heading out to holiday parties and romantic dinners. Below, I wrote out the tips, and the genius Gemma Correll illustrated them. Here goes…
1. Fill red wine glasses 1/3 full, white wine glasses 1/2 full, and sparkling wine 3/4 full.
2. Twist the bottle at the end of pouring a glass of wine, to prevent drips (and to give it a flourish!).
3. Cheers! When clinking glasses, make eye contact with the other person. Otherwise, according to French superstition, you’ll risk seven years of bad luck (read: bad sex). You also should clink glasses individually with each person at the table without crossing anyone’s arms.
4. If someone is toasting you (your wedding, your birthday, your general awesomeness), don’t take a sip. Just smile and look humble.
5. Always hold your wine glass by the stem. Many people mistakenly think you only need to hold white wine by the stem (so you don’t warm up the wine), but experts say you should hold red wine by the stem, too, so you can see its color and clarity, as well as to avoid smudging the glass with your fingerprints. Otherwise, wine snobs might call you a “bowl grabber”! :)
6. On the table, your wine glass goes to the right of your water glass.
7. While taking a sip, you should politely look into your glass. (And not at another person, if you’re in the middle of a conversation.)
8. The host’s duty is to make sure glasses stay filled. “My eyes go to empty glasses immediately,” wine expert John Thoreen says. “It’s a real radar thing for me.”
9. Or happily forget all the tips above, and just eat, drink and be merry!
Hope you enjoyed these! Thanks again to Gemma for the awesome illustrations. xoxo
P.S. A lipstick trick with wine, and the #1 etiquette tip to remember for the holidays.
(Illustrations by Gemma Correll for A Cup of Jo. Thanks to Shoko for research help. Tips via Primer, SFGate and years of drinking experience:)
Wine Tasting Etiquette: The Basic Do's and Don'ts
How to taste wine for the best possible evaluation is a very important part of my job, as my clients - some of them I hope - rely on me for sound advice as to what of the new vintages are worth their salt. What to drink short term and what to cellar are important concerns - and I have been putting wines in many of the same client's cellars for over thirty years plus - ouch, that is frightening number to have written!
Recent experience at a number of these tasting events has given me the impetus to come up with my tips on the do's and do not's of wine tasting.
Do not go to a wine tasting smelling like the perfume counter at the local department store. Perfume, colognes and lipstick all cloud the olfactory system, not just of the wearers whom usually seem oblivious to their aroma but of all the other tasters who have to endure the suffocating pong.
If there is a room of thirty plus wines, which is on the conservative side quantity wise of a few of the recent tasting events I have attended, (one had over 250 wines available to taste) - do not taste everything! If you do you will not only have a scrambled brain but more than likely scrambled tasting notes.
Do spit, as even with a small taste of a number of wines you are going to cloud your brain a wee bit. Even when spitting you are receiving a bit of alcohol as it is absorbed in the mouth. A colleague and I at a recent tasting were standing next to two obviously "under the weather" tasters. Having tasted a full bodied Shiraz they then went on to taste of one the country's finest Rieslings, enough said.
Do not skip outside for quick smoke, not just for the smoker's palate but more importantly the other tasters. Remember you stink!
Do not, as I witnessed at a recent tasting of Spanish wines, go from tasting a Fino to Amontillado to an Oloroso and then a PX sherry and onto an Alberino. What these people were smelling and tasting had me scratching my head, but I am pretty certain that it had nothing to do with Alberino.
Do use your nous when tasting, do not start with the latest vintage Shiraz/Syrah. Start with sparkling dry white wines and then go through the white wines from light styles to the broader, full bodied varieties. Follow with reds, the lighter styles through to the robust varieties and the fortified wines last.
Do have some bread, dry biscuits and some water whilst tasting, it helps after a few tastes to freshen up the palate. Do rinse your glass with water when moving from the whites to the reds.
Do go with an idea of what specific varieties you are interested in. If you are a private buyer and have your cellar full with Pinot's that are going to cover you for the next half a dozen years, look for other varieties you enjoy as you may have some holes to fill. And if you are retailer with a stack of Pinot to move, ditto.
Do use a simple scoring system while tasting - a quick out of 20 works for me. Taste the wines you have an interest in and then go back and revisit the ones that you scored the highest and do your tasting notes - and do the whites before the reds!
Do taste age before youth if there are back vintages of a wine on tasting. This is usually a sound policy although there are times a winemaker may suggest you try a new vintage out of the normal order.
Do take into account the quality of glassware used at the tasting. This usually, one would hope, will be a quality vessel. There is also the wine dinner where a vineyard or wholesaler offer their wares with food and more often than not high quality and purpose built (for different varieties and styles) glassware will be used. These glasses make ordinary wine taste good, good wine better and great wine extraordinary. So if you normally drink out of a vegemite jar - beware the wine that tasted good!
Finally, one definite do for those people showing their wines. Do check your wine when opening a new bottle for tasting. At a recent tasting I attended a vineyard representative was exposing the virtues of a wine to a couple of tasters. I helped myself to a taste, had a sniff, the wine that was sealed with cork was putrid with cork taint. Half the bottle had already been used for tasting, and yes, I did inform him!
Wine Tasting Etiquette – The Dos and Don’ts
There’s more nuance to wine tasting than people give it credit for. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not about ‘eating cheese and getting drunk out of your mind’. Wine tasting is a unique art form that has its own unspoken (yet strictly enforced) rules and regulations.
Most wine enthusiasts don’t know the first thing about these rules and end up having an uninspired wine tasting experience.
To ensure that the same never happens to you, we’ve compiled a list of the dos and don’ts of wine tasting.
DO: Have a Healthy Breakfast
They say preparation is half the battle won. The same holds true for wine tasting.
A big part of getting ready for a wine tasting trip is having a big breakfast. Not only will doing so keep you nourished for the day, it will also help you avoid the lightheadedness one gets when drinking on an empty stomach.
DON’T: Forget to Take Notes
Think of it this way if you don’t document how your experiences, you won’t remember which samples you enjoyed most.
This defeats the entire purpose of going on a wine tasting tour (which is to improve your palette) so, it’s better to make concise notes on every wine you sample!
DO: Buy Wine
This one’s a no brainer if you really enjoy a sample, buy a bottle. Buying from the brewery has two major advantages
You’re directly supporting the people who made the wine.
You have a fresh bottle to share with your family and friends when you get home.
DON’T: Get Drunk
Simply put, getting drunk is a surefire way of sabotaging your wine tour. Drink in moderation when tasting when. Don’t take huge gulps of reds or whites instead take small sips and savor the flavor. Similarly, make sure to drink your fair share of water so that you keep your body hydrated!
DO: Make a Reservation
Wine tours are extremely popular these days so there’s a high chance that the breweries you plan to visit on the weekends might be packed to the rafters. And while wine tasting is more fun when you have people around you, too many people can completely ruin your experience.
So, if you have a few holidays lined up, you should make reservations beforehand. If you’re looking for economical wine tour packages in Solvang, then you’ve certainly come to the right place!
The Artisan Excursion team prides itself in its extensive knowledge of the wineries in Solvang and offers you the premium wine tasting experience. Treat yourself to a day of comfort, good company and great wine by getting in touch with us today!
Taste & Terroir
By Joanne Sasvari – Joanne is a food, drink and travel writer who contributes to Postmedia publications, Destination BC and WestJet Magazine, and is the author of the forthcoming Wickaninnish Inn and Vancouver Eats cookbooks. She is also editor of The Alchemist and Vitis magazines. Learn more about Joanne here. Follow her onTwitter @JoanneSasvari.
A dozen dos and don’ts for making the most of your wine country experience
What could be more deliciously enjoyable than meandering from winery to winery, enjoying a sip of Semillon here and a taste of Tempranillo there? But nothing can ruin that experience faster than a bunch of people showing up and flinging their bad attitudes and worse manners around.
Now, no one is saying you have to be all hushed and reverent when you go into a tasting room. Wine should not be stuffy or intimidating. It should be fun—just not the kind of fun you might expect to have at, say, a nightclub on the Las Vegas Strip.
After all, a tasting room is not (usually) a bar. It’s a place to taste and buy wine.
Different tasting rooms offer different experiences. Some have picnic tables, gift shops, play areas and restaurants others simply have a small tasting counter. It’s best to call ahead or at least check the website so you know what to expect, and plan accordingly.
To make the experience better for yourself and those around you, follow these basic dos and don’ts of tasting room etiquette.
Do dress to destress. And by that we mean comfortably and casually, but not sloppily. Avoid high heels, which can be dangerous in a winery setting. Bring a sweater as cellars can be chilly. Pro tip: Black is always stylish, and it doesn’t show red wine stains.
Don’t load on the fragrance. The only thing you should be able to smell in the tasting room is what’s in the glass. Skip the heavy perfumes and the aftershave.
Do arrange for safe transportation and/or a designated driver. Make sure your group gets home safely.
Don’t forget to eat breakfast. And make sure to frequently hydrate throughout the day.
Do keep numbers to a minimum. Some wineries welcome large groups and have the space to accommodate them, but in general, the bigger the group, the less one-on-one experience it will be.
Don’t forget to buy a bottle. Most wineries have a tasting fee. Good news, though: If you buy a bottle, the tasting fee usually goes to the purchase price.
Do savour your wine. You will typically be offered a selection of wines, starting with light whites, moving to heavier reds and ending with dessert wines. The best way to taste them is to swirl the glass to release the aromatic compounds, sniff the wine to experience its myriad aromas, and then take a sip, not a gulp, and really savour it.
Don’t be afraid to spit. And feel free to dump whatever’s left in your glass. You can always tell the pros at a tasting—they’re the ones spitting after each taste. It’s the only way to keep your palate and mind fresh.
Do ask questions. Tasting room staff are there to tell you about their wines and are happy to share what they know. Being engaged is the whole point of the experience.
Don’t be rude. You might think it’s funny to quip, “This is not a wine for drinking — this is a wine for laying down and avoiding,” but trust me, no one else does, and besides Monty Python did it better way back in 1972. And while we’re at it: Don’t be a know-it-all.
Do buy wine. Be prepared to buy a bottle or two. If you’re visiting several wineries, you can start a case in your vehicle and add to it as you go.
Don’t ask for the good stuff. The best way to get special treatment? Not to ask for it. Don’t ask for a larger pour (staff can only legally pour a certain amount anyway). Don’t ask for a second glass of anything. If you want another glass, that’s your cue that you should probably buy a bottle to enjoy with friends and family.
That said, you can politely ask if any library wines are available to taste, but expect to pay extra for the privilege, and to buy a bottle, too. And then just maybe someone will offer to pour you the good stuff for free.
The Rules of Tasting-Room Etiquette
We had our first 70-plus-degree day in New York this week, the wildflowers are blooming in Napa Valley after a chilly early spring, and winery tasting rooms across the country are playing host to more and more tourists by the day. Those visitors are a huge source of wine-country income, but they can also be a huge headache when they don't abide by proper tasting-room decorum.
Not long ago, in the charming Southern California wine hamlet of Temecula, the Bel Vino Winery tasting room received an unscheduled visit from Temecula Police Department officers and even a sheriff's helicopter, responding to reports of a mêlée between intoxicated tourists …
The shenanigans led to an ill-fated escape attempt by the suspects, an assault on a deputy and five arrests. "Four women began to dispute and assault each other in a bathroom," Bel Vino Winery CEO Lisa Kaplan commented in an online report. "The incident was blown way out of proportion. … We had five people involved in the 'brawl that never was.' I invite anyone to stop by and visit Bel Vino Winery. . We take very seriously the guest needs and safety. We also take very seriously the wine consumption of all our guests."
Of course, the "Brawl that Never Was" was an isolated incident, and Bel Vino has received very good customer reviews for its hospitality. But, with tasting-room tourist season kicking into high gear, what exactly are the dos and don'ts of winery visits?
• Got I.D.? "Bring your I.D., even if you're 40," said Wild Horse Winery visitor-center manager Leslie Churchill, who previously worked in hospitality at Napa tourist mecca Franciscan Estate. "If you have your parents with you, I don’t care if they vouch for you, I'm still not going to serve you. We've had a few European parents who get mad that we won't serve their teenagers."
• Plan ahead and watch the clock: "Call ahead if you have a large group," suggested Churchill, who also encourages visitors to be mindful of the tasting room's hours of operation. "People show up at 5 p.m. and stay for 45 minutes, knowing you're closed, and then they don't buy anything. So if someone stays open late for you, at least purchase a bottle. That's just polite."
• Don't overdo it: "I suggest doing one nice tasting in the morning and one nice tasting in the afternoon, and then if you have time, your palate is still there and you're not picking your tongue up off the floor, then you can add a third one," advised Jason Bullock, hospitality manager at Napa's Flora Springs winery. "But I see people all the time that try to squeeze in six or seven or eight tastings—like kids in a candy store—but they're not enjoying the experience. You're going to be in a rush. I see it all the time: They spend a year planning their vacation to Napa Valley to relax and enjoy the beauty of it, and they end up just hustling from one place to the next."
• Don't be the answer to "What's that smell?" It's impossible to appreciate the aroma of a Cabernet when the air is heavy with the fragrance of perfume or smoke. So be mindful not to introduce any unwanted aromatics to the tasting room, even if the staff is too polite to say anything. "We just go open the door to get some fresh air," said Churchill. Bullock suggests taking the tasting outside if the day is nice, "to enjoy the views of the vineyard and get them as far away from everyone else's nose as possible."
• Watch your mouth and mind your manners: "Be polite and don't expect to drink all you want," Churchill said. "Don't be loud don't be obnoxious don't be unruly don't cuss—it's not a sports bar." Also be mindful that only tasting-room employees, by law, are permitted to pour you a glass of wine—never reach for the open bottles. And never, ever, pull a Miles: "Don't drink out of the dump bucket," Churchill admonished. "I've had that happen before, not like in Sideways—it was a little bit classier … he actually poured it into his wineglass before he chugged it down. I said, 'Excuse me, but you can't do that.' And he said, 'Oh, it's OK, I'm from Canada.' I said, 'I don't know what that means, but you still can't do that!'"
• Leave the kids at home, and don't leave your friends or belongings at the winery: "If you bring kids, bring snacks and coloring books or something to keep them entertained," Churchill advised, although children are generally best left at home. "Napa Valley is for making babies, not taking babies," Bullock joked. "We don't encourage [bringing children], but we don't discourage it, either. Parents work hard, but it's the other guests that we worry about—they come to Napa Valley to get away from their own children they most certainly don't want to hang out with yours!" While a call ahead can smooth out any visits from the underaged, winery staff can't often prepare for what guests leave behind, from an off-duty officer's handgun to a wedding party that departed without a bridesmaid napping in the cellar.
Bullock doesn't want anyone to get the wrong idea about tasting-room etiquette, however. The expectations "vary with the caliber of the winery. There are wineries that everyone knows are the 'party wineries,' and we're certainly not Snooty McSnooterson here, but I think we offer a high-caliber experience," he said. "People are good natured about [the rules]. It's fun to come here—to let loose a little bit, and I certainly enjoy that right alongside them."
6 Rules of Wine Tasting
Wine tasting is fun (duh). And educational (sometimes).
There's a lot to be said for tasting your way through a few dozen wines on a Saturday afternoon, and walk-around tastings are pretty easy to come by. Check your local event listings, or contact your favorite wine store or importer to find one near you.
Like any specialized event, there are rules of etiquette. Here are some tips to help you navigate the room.
① Avoid wearing perfume or cologne. You want to be nosing the wine in your glass--not your neighbor.
② Start with a fresh palate. It's smart to have a little something in your stomach before a tasting--you'll be drinking, after all. But keep the residual flavors to a minimum by opting for something a little bland and saving leftover vindaloo for later.
③ Don't rinse with water. It's not necessary to rinse your glass between wines, provided you don't switch back and forth between whites and reds. Just pour the remaining wine into the spittoon and move along.
④ Think about what you want to learn. Never been able to pinpoint the signature grassy notes in New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc? Taste ten of them in a row and chances are it'll click. Think of it like putting a face to a name.
⑤ Wear dark colors. Even in a subdued environment, there's still a lot of wine going around. Spills happen.
⑥ Do spit. And don't hog the spittoon! There's typically only one per table, so spit and step out of the way.