Tasting Room Etiquette

In the recent piece, “Wine Touring: Where to Start,” we talked about the process of selecting some wineries to visit and planning an itinerary. We also discussed the delicate art of spitting out wine, so that you can continue to keep the car on the road. Now, it’s show time.

Tasting rooms come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes, it will look just like this photo on the left (Anglim Winery, Paso Robles). Other times, it will be less formal—just two barrels with a board straddled between them. Either way, here are a few more thoughts on a having a successful experience:

  • Once inside the tasting room, look for some open space at the tasting bar, and step right up. If the room is crowded, you may need to wait a minute or so to get an opening. After you’ve been poured some wine, do be polite by stepping back, or taking a table, so others can be served. Unfortunately, some tasters have a tendency to “camp-out” at the tasting bar. This can cause a real log jam if the tasting room is busy. Hopefully, everyone else will do the polite thing as well.
  • Be friendly, and don’t forget to give the tasting room staff their due. They pour wine for a whole lot of people, and you’re just one of them. While the overall wine knowledge of staff may vary from winery to winery, they usually know their own wines quite well. So, give them a break if they mistake you for a newbie and pull out the soap box to explain the basics of wine or wine-tasting. If you know your stuff, it won’t take them long to realize this, so try to avoid one-upping them with your knowledge.
  • From time-to-time, you’ll be treated to a pour of some additional wine(s) that might not normally be open or available in the tasting room. Sometimes this is due to a holiday weekend, or a special occasion for the winery, or maybe another taster has asked for the wine and the tasting room has obliged. Then,there are those special times when something extra was opened because you sufficiently impressed the pourer with your wine interest or knowledge. Congratulations, because either way, you’ve hit paydirt!
  • Do take some notes as you taste the wines. You can usually ask for one of the tasting menus or sales sheets, and just jot down some quick impressions right there. Briefly note what you liked about the wine, and maybe give a check mark or two to the ones you liked the best. This isn’t mandatory, of course, and many people don’t take notes at all. Of course, if you have a photographic memory, then none of this is necessary and you’ll be even more highly respected among your peers.
  • Whether you have a planned itinerary, or you fly by the seat of your pants, you’re going to need some water and snacks to help keep the effects of the wine at bay, and/or freshen your palate. Sometimes the tasting room will have some munchables on the tasting bar, but don’t count on it. I suggest carrying along some cheese, bread, or crackers, and some fruit and veggies (slices of apple, and carrot or celery sticks work well). If you’ve actually brought along enough food for lunch, plan on tailgating about mid-day. It’s a good opportunity for a break. You can often pick up cheese, bread, etc., at the winery (they may have a small deli selection available) for picnicking on their grounds. Otherwise, plan on stopping for lunch at a restaurant, although you can expect them to be crowded.

Lastly, don’t forget about spitting out your tastes or at least pouring out the excess wine from your glass. Did I mention you should try and have fun?

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