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Tasting room etiquette

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Drinking wine at home or over dinner is a fantastic experience, with its own set of etiquette (or lack thereof in more informal situations). At some point in every serious wine drinker’s life, though, tasting rooms become an integral part of the experience. Tasting rooms offer an opportunity to meet winemakers, sample new wines that you might like to buy, and explore the vineyards where the wines are made. More and more travel destinations have burgeoning wine industries, and visiting these – especially those that are as yet relatively unknown – can be the high point of any trip. There is a certain etiquette in a tasting room, however, and it’s worth knowing before you go.

 

First, it’s important to gauge the level of formality in a region. Generally, the more established and wealthy a region is the more formal the tasting rooms will be. The Napa Valley, for example, or Champagne, are both home to massive multi-million dollar estates and a wine culture that prides itself on pomp and circumstance. Emerging regions tend to be more laid back, however, with winemakers themselves pouring the wine, often in their garages – and here that level of pomp can be seen as arrogant. A number of premium winemaking regions have also explicitly held themselves apart from the trappings of their wealthy fellows, and here you’ll want to be relaxed about your wine drinking – Australia is a good example of this, as is the Anderson Valley, the Willamette Valley, and many of the smaller wineries in Burgundy.


You will be greeted by a tasting room person when you arrive, and you should feel free to let them know what you like. If you are most interested in a specific varietal, mention that to them. If you like to taste your wines without notes, let them know you’d prefer to taste first and discuss later. If you’re tasting at many wineries, and would prefer to only taste what they consider their top one or two wines, let them know. Tasting room staff are there to help you, and you should feel free to politely request anything you need. Note that if a winery doesn’t make a big deal of their wine scores, it is probably because they don’t put much stock in them – often wineries’ best wines have not been rated – so avoid asking to taste only high-scoring wines.


You’ll be poured a small taste of a given wine – if you’re tasting through all of a winery’s offerings, you’ll begin with the light-bodied wines and move through in order of weight, ending with sweet wines. Swirl, smell, and taste. There should be a receptacle for you to pour your wine in – whether you don’t like it, or if you’re just taking a small taste, don’t worry about offending by pouring it out. If you are spitting, feel free to ask for a cup or other vessel to spit into.


When you’ve tasted through them all, feel free to ask for a second taste of one or two wines you may be interested in purchasing. Many wineries have a wine club, and often offer international shipping, which can be a great way to receive their new releases. Finally, remember to have fun and not worry too much – most tasting rooms have hundreds come through a day, at all levels of wine knowledge. These staff are rarely impressed by those who consider themselves experts on wine, and will become friendlier and more likely to guide you to better selections if you simply enjoy yourself.

 

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