Survival Guide to Wine Touring & tasting 101
The image of hunkering over a small fire comes to mind when I think of using the survival lessons I learned as a Girl Scout. Now that my profession has moved to the wine industry, I can still use many of those principles while touring wine country. If you are a novice or expert at wine tasting, please review these tips on how to be a good steward of our wine environment. Way back in my days of cookie slinging and pigtails, I learned the 7 “Leave No Trace” principles to adhere to when visiting our gorgeous outdoors. When you venture out to tour wineries you can apply most of these tips too.
1. Know before you go – Please plan appropriately.
HOURS OF OPERATION - Many wineries, especially our smaller producers, have varying hours. If you would like to visit a winery check their website for their hours. Better yet, phone or email the winery. Many folks might be around on hours not posted on their website.
GROUPS - If you are bringing a group over 8 people, make a reservation. Parking can also be a difficult so you might want to inquire on that too.
TOUR of FACILITIES - If you want something extra special such as a tour, you should ask before going and make reservation for that.
TRAVEL TIME – Amazing how wine flies when you are having fun….I mean, time flies when you are having fun! When planning your trip make sure you have plenty of time at each spot and account for the distance you will have to travel to the next winery especially if you have reservations at multiple locations.
KIDS & PETS – Not to lump the too together but check with the winery if you are traveling with either of these family members. There are a lot of wineries that accommodate Kids and pets but showing up and asking for forgiveness can lead to awkwardness on both sides of the counter.
PERSONAL ATTIRE – If you are planning a long day of wine tours, dress appropriately. Comfortable shoes. Think about the weather. It will matter at the end of the day.
BUDGET - Fees to taste are standard operating procedure at most wineries, though some still offer complimentary or very low-cost tastes. Many will waive tasting fees with a wine purchase (which takes some of the sting out of higher fees), so be sure to inquire about such incentives. Make sure you’re aware of shipping laws applying to your state if you need to ship wine back home.
Hydrate - Drink plenty of water to stave off dehydration and always plan on having a designated driver.
2. Choose the right path – TASTING ORDER – Folks seem to think that you go whites to reds. That is only true to a point. Not “white” but “light”. Meaning you want to taste the wines with lighter body before more robust reds or you could lose the delicate nuances in the lighter wines due to tannins or flavors of the more bold wines. And ALWAYS serve sweet wines at the end of your line up. Otherwise you run the risk of the sweetness interfering with the flavors of more robust wines.
3. Pack your trash – SPIT/DUMP – I know it is odd that as pretentious as wine can be it is perfectly acceptable to swish wine around in your mouth then spit it out. I, for one, ALWAYS spit when I have multiple wines lined up to taste. However, I bring along a red solo cup to spit into and a disposable napkin. I am totally grossed out by the dump bucket. Anyone see Sideways? The wine tasting attendants will not be offended by you passing on a wine, dumping a wine, or spitting. They will however, if you trash-talk their wines. If you do not care for the wine simply dump it and move on.
4. Leave what you find – UNLESS OTHERWISE OFFERED – Unbelievable as it sounds, I have to write this: taking what is not yours is stealing. The tasting glasses are usually not given to you to take home. Likewise, the gorgeous flowers in the winery’s garden or on the tables are not usually free for the taking. Weird that I have to mention this but you would be amazed at how people act when on wine tours.
5. Be careful with fire – IN THIS CASE WINE - There are some techniques that will bring wine to its optimal condition before tasting. This portion of this article is for those of you who want to really dive in and learn more about the sensory aspects of wine tasting. Industry refers to these as the tasting technique – Swirl, see, smell, sip, savor, select.
Swirl– to keep the wine in its glass while swirling, have the bottom of the glass keep n contact with the tabletop. Otherwise, you could be wearing it! This technique also allows the wine to cling to the glass and opens some of the phenol content (that’s a fancy word for smells and flavors) of the wine.
See – Hold wine glasses by the stem rather than the bowl; holding them by the bowl coats glasses with fingerprints. You are looking for a few things when you “see” the wine. Look for clarity, color, and streaming wine otherwise called the “legs” of the wine. All are clues to the wines content.
Smell - Inhale deeply through your nose before taking a sip; wine’s aromas tell a big part of the story. What varietal it is, where it came from, how old or young the wine is. This is a good time to ask the attendant questions about the craftsmanship of the wine.
Sip - Upon drinking, swirl the wine around in your mouth. Think about textures like heavy, thick, light, and viscosity. Think about the flavors; are they savory, sweet, fruit, earth, leather. Think about the sensations such as heat, refreshing, cold. Be thoughtful as how the wine changes on your palate. I love using the Wine Wheel for dialing in the exact flavors.
Savor (or Spit) – If you swallow the wine think about how it feels going down your throat. Whether you swallow or spit you will have a chance to reflect on the length of the finish which is the amount of time the wine’s flavors stick around after the wine is gone. Count how many seconds you can still taste and feel the wine.
Select – If you like the wine and find it reasonably priced, take some home. Ask the attendant if there are any offers that will allow you to save money. Many wineries offer quantity discounts and many have loyalty programs.
6. Respect wildlife – RESPECT THE WINE ATTENDANT – On some occasions the person pouring the wine is also the owner or winemaker for the winery. These are great opportunities to dig in deep to the history of the wines or geek out on the craftsmanship of the wine. Other times you will be chatting with a tasting room attendant. If a winery has trained their staff you will still get the story and some of the winemaking but generally these folks are not experts in winemaking BUT they are experts in customer service. If they don’t have an answer for you ask for the contact person for the winery.
Questions - Ask away. Most folks in tasting rooms love to share their passion for wine.
Comments – Folks pouring wines in tasting rooms are there primarily because they love the wine they are pouring. If you like the wines let them know. If not, dump it and move on. Wine tasting is subjective. Your personal preference might not line up to a winemaking style. Simply dump it and move on. This is not to say you should not point out a flaw but there is some tact in doing so. Being critical of a wine is comparable to coming into a persons home and criticizing there taste in décor.
Dumping and spitting – Totally acceptable as referred to in “Pack Your Trash”.
Splitting a tasting with a companion is acceptable. It even sends the message that you are tasting responsibly.
Consumption - Keep tabs on how much you’re consuming. Typically, wineries offer one-ounce pours. As a reference point, there are four to six ounces of wine in a typical glass; know your limit and spit or stop when you’ve reached it or the attendant pouring can and should no longer pour wine to you. It is their license at risk if you push the matter.
Purchase wine – If you like what you have tasted buy some. Having wines at home to share with your friends and family is a great way to relive your touring memories. Many wineries have special offerings throughout the year and loyalty programs including quantity discounts.
7. Be kind to other visitors – With wine touring becoming mainstream there all folks from all walks of life enjoying wine. Be aware of your comrades in wineries. Visit with them. That is what wine is about; sharing and exploring the greatness of the vine!
Perfume - Don't wear perfume or heavily scented cologne to tasting rooms; the scents can overwhelm the subtle aromas in wine – and interfere with your own and others’ experience.
Conduct - Wineries are wineries, not bars or nightclubs. Although alcohol is being served, it’s a relaxed and conversational environment. Save loud banter and raucous activities for later!
There you have it; a broad view on how to survive wine touring and tasting! There are so many ways to learn about wines from our region. I would suggest going to the front lines; go to the tasting rooms. The folks there love what they are doing! . Cheers!
From Becky Driscoll, Certified Sommelier, Wine Veteran, more blog posts can be found at www.drink509wine.com