Welcome to the second part in my series about all things wine tasting. Last time I gave you my best tips about what to wear while wine tasting. This time I am giving you my insider tips to wine tasting, answering those questions you’ve always wanted to ask.
Before we get to it, let’s get something important out of the way first. Before you go wine tasting, designate a sober driver or better yet, hire a driver to take you around. My favorite service is Napa Valley Wine Tours and Transportation, the service sponsoring at tour for Bloggers in Napa Valley next week. It may be pricey to hire a driver but it’s worth it to keep everyone safe on the road.
Having lived in the California Wine Country for the last 15 years, spending lot of time on both sides of the wine tasting bar, I know my wine tasting. I want to share with you some fundamental tips and etiquette rules you might not be able to find in wine tasting guidebooks.
I’m calling it Wine Tasting 101: What the Guidebooks Don’t Tell You.
I hope these easy tips will help you get the most out of your next wine tasting experience:
1) What do I do if I don’t like the wine? Dump it out into the “dumper” that always sits on the bar and usually looks like a vase or pot. Don’t worry about offending the person assisting you. You don’t have to like every wine you taste and you don’t have to drink all of your taste if you don’t want. Only drink what you like!
2) Are those breadsticks and that carafe of water for me? Yes, they are. Help yourself to the crackers or breadsticks. You will need them to cleanse your palate between tastes. If you’re hungry, most wineries sell bags of crackers, cheeses, lunch meats and other snacks. Take advantage. You will be sorry if you don’t nibble throughout the day while tasting.
The water carafe is for rinsing your glass between tastes. Simply swish your glass around with the water and pour it out in the dumper. The person serving you will usually do this for you, but if you want to do it, go ahead. If you’d like a glass of water – and I encourage you to hydrate throughout the day – just ask! They will be happy to give you a glass or two or direct you to the cooler where water bottles are sold.
3) What do I do if I feel tipsy? Stop tasting, get something to eat that sticks to your ribs, drink some fresh water and have a rest. If you feel better after that, resume tasting but only take very small tastes and continue to hydrate. Wine tasting can really sneak up on you so eat enough food and drink enough water before you visit your first winery.
4) Make room at the bar for other guests and don’t linger at your spot for too long unless there aren’t many people in the tasting room. The tasting bar is only so big so if it’s a busy day, be prepared to get cozy and share. Most people are having fun and are in good moods while wine tasting. Who knows? You might make a new friend!
5) What do I do about the purple teeth? This is what I call the Red Wine Smile (RWS). Teeth will sometimes appear purple after drinking red wines. It’s not your teeth that are stained purple, it’s your saliva. If you mouth is not moist to start off with and you have a few tastes of a bold red wine like a Cabernet or Zinfandel with heavy tannins, your saliva will turn purple and you will sport a RWS, making you look like you’ve been swilling wine all day. To avoid RWS, steer clear of darker red wines and drink lots of water. If you can’t resist a good hearty red – and really you shouldn’t – after you taste, find a restroom and rinse and swish your mouth with water, preferably bubbly water if you can find some. Then scrape your tongue with your teeth or a tongue scraper, if you happen to have one. Stay hydrated from the start and you might be okay!
6) The tasting room may look like a bar and it does serve alcohol but it’s not a bar. It’s a place to try small tastes of wine while listening to and learning from the wine expert helping you. They are full of interesting information. Don’t turn your back to them or ignore them.
7) To tip or not to tip. Tipping the person who poured wine for you is not mandatory or even obligatory. But if you had a great experience with the person who poured for you, leave a small tip. Five or so dollars is plenty. But don’t feel like you have to. As someone who used to work in a tasting room, tips are nice to receive but not expected.
8) Don’t wear goopy lipstick or heavy perfume while tasting. See my other wine tasting post for more about that.
9) Do I have to buy some wine? No you don’t and you shouldn’t feel like you have to if you don’t want. Back in the good old days when tasting was free, I often felt obligated to buy at least one bottle. But these days most tastings run $10.00 to $20.00 per person. You paid for that tasting, don’t feel guilty if you don’t buy. What wineries want is for you to have a terrific experience with them enjoying their wines with the hopes that you’ll remember their label next time you’re out to dinner or at the market purchasing wine.
If you’re going to buy wine, I suggest spending your money on wines that are only for sale at the winery or aren’t widely distributed. Ask your salesperson about the availability of your favorites. If I am going to schlep bottles of wine home with me, I want to make sure they’re special and not the same wines sitting on the shelf at my corner market.
10) What if I say something stupid? Wine tasting is supposed to be fun. Don’t worry if you don’t know what malolactic fermentation is or how a wine with leather notes tastes. You’re there to learn and enjoy. Ask as many questions as you like!
Have a question about wine tasting? Feel free to ask me!
Bloggers in Napa Valley will be putting Wine Tasting 101 into action next week!
Make it a rich day!