Wine Tasting Etiquette

The Do’s and Don’ts All Insiders Know About Wine Tasting

napa valley wine tour vineyardThe Do’s and Don’ts All Insiders Know About Wine Tastings

There are four kinds of people at wine tastings. One is an experienced connoisseur, and knows it, but doesn’t flaunt it. He has nothing to prove; he/she is simply there to experience new wines and perhaps learn something new. You can learn a lot from these guys, but it’s sometimes hard to tell them apart from some of the others …

The second dude is also experienced, but does flaunt it. He tosses around lingo like, “tannic” and “matchstick” just to impress everyone. He never learns anything new, though, because he/she already believes they know it all.

The third person you’ll meet is the newbie who doesn’t want to admit they’re wet behind the ears. They also use wine-snob terms, without any true understanding, and base most of their opinions on the issue or two of Wine Spectator they read in their dentist’s waiting room.

The fourth and final fellow you’ll find at wine tastings is the true, admitted newbie. That may be you! But with a few helpful tips on what to do (and, perhaps more importantly, what not to do), you’ll fit right in. Don’t forget to linger around with Guy #1, because he or she, along with the workers in the wineries and tasting rooms, are excellent sources of just the kind of knowledge you’re looking for. (P.S., when you do know your stuff, be Guy #1, not Guy #2. The world of wine thanks you in advance.)

Do Try a Wine You Don’t Think You’ll Like

You likely have a mental picture of what wines you do like and which you don’t. Perhaps you’re sold on dry reds, refusing to consider a sweet rosé or gingery white. Stop that. Wine tasting attendants say it’s commonplace for visitors to leave with a brand new favorite that’s completely different from their normal fare. Experiment! That’s what tastings are for.

Wine Tasting Choices

Don’t Wear Cologne or Perfume

Smelly aftershave, perfume, or even a particularly aromatic shampoo or body wash can ruin a tasting — not just for you, but also for your companions. About 80% of our sense of taste is actually experienced through our noses. Be considerate (and set the stage for yourself to enjoy the wines) by sticking with as little scent as possible.

Do Know When to Swallow & When to Spit

Swallow? Spit? Pour out the leftovers? There are no right or wrong answers, but there are some sensible guidelines. For example, if you’re going to several wineries, you’ll want to limit your swallowing, stay hydrated, and keep your tummy full of the palette cleansing hors d’oeuvres, so that you don’t get drunk. Drunkenness is probably the absolute worst social faux pas you can commit at a wine tasting. However, it’s perfectly fine to sip enough to relax and enjoy yourself! Spit when you need to, and don’t hesitate to pour out your leftover wine into the spittoons provided, even if you particularly like it. It’s not rude; it’s being a responsible patron.

Don’t Pretend to be ‘In the Industry’ to Get Discounts

Wine Tasting Insider Tips: Don't Pretend

Attendants at wine tastings often gripe and joke about what people pull to try and get industry discounts that are only offered to wine businesses. They tell stories of home wine makers who show up with homemade business cards (the cheap perforated kind from the discount office supply stores) and try to pretend to be a wine business. Unless you truly are an industry insider, just pay the offered price for the wines. If you are one, act like it. This includes not requesting special favoritism during a hectic weekend tasting. Visit wineries during the slower periods so that attendants can take their time with you without hindering their regular business (with customers who are paying full price).

Do Ask Questions

Winery employees, as well as the knowledgeable, experienced visitors with you, are valuable resources for all kinds of questions. This is especially true when you’re first learning about wine. Feel free to quiz them for great info on buying wine, storing wine, serving wine, pairing wine with foods, what other wineries and wines to try during your visit, and anything else you need to know. Just don’t be “that guy” who dominates the entire tasting, leaving no one else an opportunity to chat or ask questions of the attendant.

Don’t Ask the Attendant for the “Good Stuff”

It’s perfectly fine to inquire about reserve wines or library wines, but don’t as for “the good stuff”. It indirectly implies that what you’re being served isn’t any good. Also, it makes assumptions that the winery is somehow holding back something, and that just isn’t the case. You probably don’t lay out your finest china when a stranger knocks at the door. It’s a similar principle: wineries do hold on to reserve bottles that they save for their best, most regular, highest spending customers. Additionally, a winery that’s been in business awhile likely has way too large a library to bring out all their wines at every tasting. Hotels hold on to a good room “just in case” a regular customer drops by, and restaurants always reserve at least one good table for regulars and big spenders who pop in unannounced. It’s just good business.

Do Ask for Seconds (If You’re Seriously Considering Buying the Wine)

There’s nothing wrong with asking for a second taste if you are actually considering buying the wine. It’s just not okay to ask for seconds just to try to get more than what’s allotted to each tasting guest. As a general rule, the more extra favors you ask, the more burden it places on you to buy wines. Requesting second tastes, asking for reserve wines, and other special requests are fine, so long as your purchases warrant the extra trouble and expense by the winery and attendants. Extra requests should also accompany generous tips.

Wine Tasting Do's and Don'ts

Don’t Forget to Tip Tasting Room Attendants

Tipping etiquette differs from tasting room to tasting room, but it’s never a no-no to offer a tip to an attendant who’s gone out of his/her way to accommodate you and your party. Usually, the lower the cost of the tasting, the higher the tip should be (and the more purchases you should make). Consider at least a $20 tip for a large party that made lots of special requests at a free tasting. Pass at least a $5 to a decent attendant at a $20 tasting, especially if you decide not to buy any wine.

Do Make Reservations for Larger Parties

Just as you wouldn’t arrive at a restaurant with a party of 25 and no reservations, don’t do this at wine tastings, either. Wineries set up to accommodate the normal flow of traffic, including whatever wines, finger foods, and other amenities they provide. A large party, say 10 or more people, really put a dent in the routine of the smaller wineries if you don’t give them a heads up. Most wineries pride themselves on personalized, well-organized, prompt service. Don’t make it impossible for them to live up to their standards by dropping in with a large crowd unannounced.

Wine Tasting: Don't Juedge a Wine on Just one Sip

Don’t Judge a Wine on Just One Sip

Wines don’t carry just a single taste sensation. Wine tastes come in threes: the initial taste, the secondary taste, and the aftertaste. The first sensation that hits is usually the wine’s sweetness or dryness, followed by its acidity, tannins, fruitiness, and body. Simply put, you just can’t get all of that in a single sip. As a rule, sip each wine three times, even if you spit it right out and even if you don’t like the initial taste. Dry wines, particularly, don’t often show their full flavor until the second or third taste. Give each wine a legitimate chance at catching your fancy.

Do Ask the Workers About Other Local Wineries to Try

In racing, there’s a term called “coopetition”. It means a cooperative competition, wherein competitors actually cooperate for their mutual benefit. Wineries in a region such as Napa Valley can’t exist independently. Yes, technically, they are “competitors” in the sense that when you spend $180 on a bottle of wine, they want you to do it with them and not the other guys. But no one would visit Napa Valley or tour the region or spend their travel dollars here if there was only a single winery. All of the wineries collectively serve as a draw that benefits all of the others. Winery personnel are excellent sources of information on each other (and many of the attendants have worked for multiple wineries, giving them keen insight on the pros and cons of each). They can tell you where the best kept secrets are, whether you’re looking for an inexpensive bottle of merlot to keep for a cold winter’s evening at home or a pricey bottle of chardonnay to give as a wedding gift. Ask and ye shall receive.

Don’t Haggle Over the Price of the Wines

Having said that, don’t haggle. It’s not a flea market. Wineries carefully price their wines according to a variety of factors that contribute to true market value. This includes factors outside their control, such as a year of bad weather that dropped grape yield or imbalances in supply and demand (such as a shaky economy or the fiscal demands of new legislation or industry regulations). Just as you wouldn’t ask your doctor to give you a price break on your yearly physical or your lawyer to give you a discount on writing your will, don’t ask the professionals at a winery to knock off of their offered price. It’s based on fair market value and they honestly can’t afford to do it for all their customers. Could you afford to take a 10% or 20% hit on all your products or services?

When you book a guided tour of Napa Valley with Allure Limo Wine Tours, the package comes with a knowledgeable, helpful driver who can help you navigate the ins and outs of all the wineries, vineyards, and wine tastings, so that you get the most out of each and every visit. The tours also come with chilled water bottles, fresh bread, and fruit, so that you can sip wine and enjoy your tastings without becoming dehydrated or intoxicated. The drivers don’t just make sure you get to each tasting on time, they also keep you safe on the roads (traffic here can get hairy for what’s essentially a small farming community) and give you insider tips for each of the wineries you visit.

Ready? Set? Let’s do wine! Call Allure Limo Wine Tours to set up your Napa Valley Wine tour today. You can also check out these other helpful links below.

Best Reasons To Take a Napa Wine Tour This Fall
Wine Tasting Tips
Wine Tasting Etiquette
Napa vs Sonoma Wine Tours
Why use a Custom Napa Limo Tour
Napa Valley Winery Map
Best Wine Tours in Napa
Napa Valley Facts
Napa Travel Tips
Why Ship Home Wine Bought in Napa
Napa  Valley Food Pairing Tips

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