If you’re traveling to wine country this season, it’s important to mind your p’s and q’s in the tasting room. Nothing says uncivilized brute like chugging a civilized Brut. But if you’re new to the wine tasting circuit, allow us to start you off on the right foot. We spoke to the tasting room experts from Fodor’s Choice winery Iron Horse Vineyards (pictured above) and the gorgeous Bartholomew Park Winery, both in California, about their top do’s and don’ts.
Ask questions! That’s right, if you want to know more (or just anything at all) about wine, don’t be afraid to ask your tasting room server. "Tasting room staff are trained to educate you about the brand they are representing," says Wong. "There is no wine question too elementary." Adds Macek, "Show an interest in the wines you are tasting and the story/history of the winery." The servers and tasting room managers are bursting with information. Take advantage.
Mind your manners. Both Wong and Macek stress the importance of being polite to your server. This means answering a greeting and using your words. (You know, like normal people!) "Just like any service industry, tasting room staff can see hundreds of people in a day," says Wong. "It all harkens back to the saying, ‘You catch more flies with honey.’"
Ask for a personal spittoon or spit cup and a napkin, and use it. Many guests tell us they find it difficult to taste the differences between wines after they have tasted a few, or they skip wines to avoid overindulging. The key to tasting (and learning about) multiple wines at a time is to spit the samples. You can get all the flavors of the wine by rolling it around your tongue for a few seconds before you spit it out. Some people spit into the large buckets on the tasting bar, but those are best for dumping any excess from your glass (and it can be pretty unappealing to put your face over them to spit). Instead, ask your server for a spitoon or cup and a napkin so you can spit discreetly, then dump your cup into those larger buckets. We all use them for professional tasting, so they are available but are rarely offered in tasting rooms.
Ask for more, the right way. "If you wish to sample a wine that you have already tasted," says Macek, "a very nice way to ask is ‘May I please revisit…’" We’d say don’t be a rude boor, but that’s for the next section.
Be a rude boor. Wong notes that a tasting room is like a restaurant, not a dive bar. "You would never yell across the room of a fine dining restaurant for butter from your server while they were attending another table, nor would you point at the menu and say, "I want the third one!" Please do not do these things in tasting rooms. Wait your turn and speak clearly to your server about what you need." And, please, don’t throw elbows trying to get to the front of the line. Nobody likes a cutter.
Argue when it comes to winery policy. "If the winery doesn’t allow smoking, large parties, animals, bikes, or children, keep in mind it is up to the winery to set the rules," says Wong, "and they are most likely in place to provide an equally comfortable environment for all guests." When you have your own winery, you can set the rules.
Try to visit too many places in a day. Trying to see and taste as much as possible usually ends up meaning lots of time spent in the car and, by the end of the day, all the wines and places tend to blur together. We recommend visiting three or four places at most, and make appointments for tours and private tastings that will let you take the time to get to really know the wines, the place, and the people at each winery.
Feel obligated to finish the wine. "If you want a smaller amount of wine," says Macek, "please do not lift your glass against the bottle to stop the pour." It’s better to leave some behind in your glass; after all, this stuff is literally growing on the vines out there.
Go wine tasting on an empty stomach. The wines wonâ€™t taste as good, and the alcohol will affect you sooner. Have a substantial breakfast, carry nuts or other snacks, and be sure to stop for lunch!
So, there you have it. Be nice, ask questions, and mind the rules. Seems easy enough, especially considering the reward is tons of wine.
Want more wine country? Check out our top picks for the best wine country getaways in the US.
Photo credits: Wine tasting at Iron Horse Vineyards courtesy of LGSterling/Iron Horse Vineyards; pouring wine for a tasting via Shutterstock