Whether you are a newbie or an experienced wine connoisseur, wine tasting is an excellent way to learn what you like and don’t like. This is a wonderful opportunity to experience the culture and history of each individual wine. If this is your first time tasting, we would like to provide you with a list of things to do and not do during your wine tasting adventure. There are a variety of different wine tasting formats from casual to formal, and it’s essential to know the types that you are going to so you can dress the part.
Whatever event you decide to go to, it’s good to be aware of what to do and not do so that you fit in and know what to expect. Luckily, we have tips for you to follow so you can enjoy your time wine tasting in Napa and Sonoma.
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If you are organizing your own tour, then you’ll need to find out the hours of operation for each wine tasting location. Most wineries can be accommodating to those who walk in, but it’s proper etiquette to check the website and confirm before dropping by. Definitely call ahead if there are more than six people in your group. Depending on the size of the winery, they may not be able to host large groups or they may have a private area available for hosting large groups.
Have a Plan
Wine tasting can be very overwhelming, even for the professionals. Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley are very large and it can take an hour or more to drive from one end to the other. The best thing to do is to focus your wine tasting itinerary around one, or a few, of the wine tasting sub-regions (AVAs) within the larger Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley AVAs. This will cut down on your driving time between wineries and help you better gain an appreciation and understanding of the wines that come from that region.
After a couple of drinks, your brain and memory may be a little fuzzy. It’s best to take notes on each individual wine that you try. Write everything in your own words or rate it on a scale of 1 to 10 for each wine. Personally, I carry a wine tasting journal with me and detail out when and where I visited, the wines I tasted, my thoughts and scores for those wines, and my overall impression of the winery and their tasting experience.
When you go wine tasting, be open to trying new things. Don’t just stick to what you know; be adventurous and explore. Chances are, you may find a unique wine that you’ll fall in love with. You should leave any misconceptions at the door and try wines that you think you’ll hate. Who knows, you might end up loving it.
If you are uncertain about wine or want to know more about its background, don’t be afraid to ask the host. You are there to learn and experience the culture and ambiance, so you have the right to ask. An excellent wine tasting host is often informative and passionate about educating those around them. The host is there to help and guide you through the whole tasting process. It's their job to know everything about the wines that they are serving. Keep in mind that there are no stupid questions. Even if you have been drinking wine for many years, there are things that you may not know about it, so why not learn through a wine tasting event.
Cleanse Your Palate
It’s best to take a sip of water between tasting the different wines so you cleanse your palate properly before tasting the next wine. Usually, you will be offered some crackers to snack on, but don’t go too crazy. This is not a substitution for lunch or dinner; it’s there to help you cleanse your palate before you drink your next glass of wine.
Give Your Opinion
One of the best parts about wine tasting is that there are no right or wrong answers. Everything is subjective and it’s all about sharing your thoughts and opinions with other guests. If your host asked you what your favorite wine was, feel free to give them your real opinion. That way, they can match your taste preference with a similar wine. IF you do run across a wine you don't care for, feel free to use the dump buckets provided to pour out the wine.
If you have a low tolerance for alcohol, then consider spitting between each drink. You can easily get drunk if you were to drink every single glass. After all, you will learn much more if you are sober. Plus, it’s hard to keep tabs on how much you consume, especially if you are socializing, learning, and walking around. Unfortunately, I've been on a few wine tours where people were vomiting by the end of the day because they consumed way too much. It's a bad look and very embarrassing so don't be afraid to spit and use the dump buckets.
Use the Spit Bucket Properly
If you are going to spit out your wine, it’s best to lean directly over the bucket and be clean about it. Avoid spitting on the table or the floor because that would be rude and inappropriate.
Don’t Wear Perfume or Aftershave
If you show up to a wine tasting event with strong perfume, cologne, or aftershave, it will affect everyone’s nostrils. These strong senses can make it challenging for those around you who are trying to taste the wine accurately. Your sense of smell is a huge factor in enjoying wine properly so try to avoid those strong scents until your tastings are done for the day.
How to Hold Your Drink and Enjoy Wine Properly
If you are a beginner, then it’s best to learn the proper way to drink your wine. The first step is to check out the color and clarity. Take the time to observe how the wine looks in the glass.
The next step is to swirl the wine. This helps open up the wine through the introduction of oxygen. After that, quickly sniff your wine to form a first impression. Bring the glass up to your nose for a second perspective and take in the fragrance and aroma. You want take note of what fragrances you smell. Then slowly sip and savor the taste. Let the fluid roll around your mouth, and experience the texture before swallowing it. Then breathe out and see how long the flavor lasts. Again, take notes of the flavors that you taste.
As far as actually holding the glass, It’s important to avoid holding the glass by the bowl. The heat from your hand can affect the taste of the wine. High temperatures can distort the flavor of the wine. The proper way of holding the glass by the stem; that way, you do not affect the taste of your wine.
Don’t Drink on an Empty Stomach
It’s best to eat something before your wine tasting event. All of your sips will add up and you’ll end up consuming more than you think. A full stomach can prevent you from getting easily drunk or having a stomach ache from the acidity of the wine.
Avoid Coffee or Chewing Gum
One of the most common mistakes that people make is drinking coffee or chewing gum before going wine tasting. Coffee and gum can affect your palate and decrease sensitivity, which can hinder the way you taste the flavors of the wine.
Bring a Bottle of Water
The alcohol in the wine can easily dehydrate you. It’s best to bring a bottle of water to stay hydrated and to cleanse your palate. You want to drink as much water as wine, so you don’t feel dizzy or get drunk quickly.
Depending on the time of year you visit Napa or Sonoma Valley, temperatures can easily reach 90 or even 100. As for shoes, you should consider closed toed shoes when you walk around the vineyard, so you will avoid tripping or getting dust and sand in between your toes.
Don’t forget to switch your phone to vibrate or silent. If you need to take a call, be courteous and step outside. After all, the guests want to focus on the taste and sensation of the wine and not your phone conversation. It’s only polite.
Don’t be a Show-Off
If you are a wine expert, it can be tempting to show off your knowledge. It’s best to refrain from getting too technical in the tasting room because that can be very intimidating and people will see you as a show-off. A wine tasting should be a welcoming and nonjudgmental environment for people of different levels in their wine knowledge. It’s best to treat wine tasting as a way to learn and to have fun.
Consider Making a Purchase
Many tasting rooms have a policy where they waive the tasting fee if a particular number of bottles of wine or dollar amount of wine is purchased. For example, some rooms will waive tasting fees if the taster purchases two bottles of wine. In addition, making a purchase can be very beneficial to the employees because they often times get a certain percentage of the sale as a commission, and it raises their salaries. If you’ve really enjoyed your experience in the tasting room, consider making a purchase as a thank you.
There may be times when a winery gives you complimentary tastings. It could be a special occasion or maybe you and your group were a referral from another winery so you are receiving complimentary tastings as a favor to the referring winery. No winery will every say this to your face as they don't want to seem pushy or rude, but in these situations, they are anticipating that you will purchase, at least, the equivalent of the tasting fees that they could have charged you.
It is considered in poor taste to accept complimentary tastings when they could have charged you a tasting fee and walk out with no purchases. The one exception to this is if you are doing a tasting as a member of the winery's wine club. In this case, almost all wineries give their loyal customers free wine tastings as a thank you for buying their wines throughout the year.
Always be Safe
A little sip here and there can lead to high blood alcohol concentration. If you don’t feel safe driving, it’s best to hire a driver or go with a tour company for the day. Many of the drivers and tour companies in Napa and Sonoma will pick you up and drop you off at your rental house or hotel.
With all these wonderful tips and tricks, you will definitely look like a wine expert at your next wine tasting event. Even if you are a beginner, you will be able to drink with confidence. After all, this list of wine tasting etiquette is here to maximize your learning and tasting experience.