Wine Tasting Etiquette

Wine Tasting Etiquette

Wine tasting affords one the opportunity to sample a variety of wines in a cost-efficient manner.  A tasting can take place in a winery, tasting room, friend’s home, or at a special event.  Recently, I had the opportunity to meet and learn from some of Mendocino County’s finest winemakers at The Taste of Mendocino, held in San Francisco last month.  It was an educational experience that allowed me to ask questions, learn about wines and grapes and expose my palette to newfound taste.

Cheryl McMillian of Lazy Creek Vineyards in Philo, Calif. compels tasters, especially beginners, to “be open minded and not afraid to try new wines.”

Whether you are planning to visit a tasting room for the first or hundredth time, here are a few etiquette tips of dos and don’ts for wine tasting to keep in mind:

1.  Perfume, cologne, scented hair sprays or any strong smelling products are frowned upon at tasting events.

Naomi Smith, District Manager of Maisons Marques et Domaines, shares that “taste is a smell.”  Smell is a very important part of the tasting experience and strong odors can interfere with a taster’s overall judgment.

2.  Tap into the knowledge of the wine pourer, concierge or winemaker.

These experts are there to assist in explaining the wines.  Take advantage of the “full experience” by learning about the flavors, color, grapes, aging process, etc.  Smith suggests that you ask a lot of questions, but be mindful of other customers by not monopolizing the server.

3.  Review the tasting menu before being served to obtain a general understanding of the varietals and flavor profiles of the wines.

White wines are generally tasted first, then reds, and finally dessert wines.  As you evaluate each wine, use a tasting menu (scorecard) or bring your own book to write comments.

4.  Do not expect to receive an entire glass of wine.

A “taste” consists of 2 ounces of wine (just a few swallows).

5.  Taste wines on a clear palette.

Proprietor, Pete Opatz of Route 128 Vineyards and Winery in Geyserville, Calif., recommends that you not eat cheese before you taste wines.  The lactic acid in cheese blocks the bitterness of wines.  He prefers eating a slice of apple.  Several tasting rooms provide wine crackers to neutralize your taste buds.

6.  Hold the glass by the stem.

This allows you to view the wine and swirl the wine properly.  The wine temperature will not be altered by the heat of your hand.

7.  Before tasting, swirl the wine in the glass.  Tilt it toward your nose and sniff.

This allows the aromas to be released to the nose.  Remember, smell is a major process in the wine tasting experience.

8.  When first tasting a wine, swirl it in your mouth for a few seconds.

This exposes your taste buds to a variety of flavors and textures.

9.  It is not necessary to swallow the wine.

Many experienced wine tasters will spit the wine out in a bucket.  This procedure is acceptable and even recommended to avoid becoming tipsy when tasting numerous wines within a short period of time.  If you are uncomfortable or feel awkward spitting in a wine spittoon, dump the wine in a wine bucket.  It is okay not to drink all of the poured wine during a tasting.

10.  Rinse the glass between tastings.

This is recommended if water is provided.

11.  It is improper to voice your opinion about a wine while others are in the process of tasting.

Try to walk away from other tasters before discussing what you liked and did not like about the wine you just tasted.

Finally, at the conclusion of an enjoyable tasting experience, tipping the wine pourer is a nice and welcomed gesture. Happy tasting!

“Wine is bottled poetry.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

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Tina Hayes is the founder and owner of The School of Etiquette and Decorum in Antioch, CA. As a passionate instructor dedicated to providing quality and professional etiquette training to her clients, Mrs. Tina Hayes promotes the awareness that social presentation and behaviors are important to be successful in today's society for all ages.