If you’re a wine lover, you’re probably always looking for excuses to try new wines and expand your palate. A wine tasting is a perfect way to get a chance to try dozens of new wines. If you’re new to wine tasting events, the whole event may seem initially overwhelming. Large, annual wine tasting events like Wine Spectator’s yearly tasting events can showcase hundreds of world-class wines for you to taste.
Once you’re at a wine tasting, the last thing you want to do is ruin your experience by worrying about wine tasting etiquette and manners. To help guide you through your wine tasting event, so it’s enjoyable and memorable, here are 10 tips of what you should (and shouldn’t) do at a wine tasting experience.
1. Be polite
A rule for any event you attend; be polite. Wineries and vineyards are reputable places that have worked incredibly hard to produce their wines. Even if the wine isn’t to your liking or you want a larger sample, don’t be rude, dismissive, or condescending. Respect any policies, rules, and guidelines provided by staff at the event. Also, be polite to the other guests at the event. Everyone is here to have a good time and find some new wines, and no one wants to be made to feel small or insulted.
2. Dress for the event
Wine tasting experiences are often held at wineries, but may also be held in large halls or centers to fit all the attending wineries (if multiple will be there). When you’ve bought tickets to a wine tasting experience, knowing where the event is being held in is the first thing you’ll want to know.
Here are some general rules for dressing for wine tastings:
- Dress in dark colors since it’s better for hiding red wine spills.
- Don’t wear long, sweeping sleeves that may knock over delicate wine glasses.
- For women, wear low heels or flats for comfort since you’ll be doing a lot of walking and standing.
- Tie back long hair so that spitting is easier (we’ll explain later).
- If you’re going to carry anything with you, keep it in your pockets or a purse to keep your hands free for your wineglass, tasting notebook, and appetizers.
In the end, don’t stress too much about what you’ll wear, just make sure you’re comfortable.
3. Stay fragrance-free
Anyone that has ever shown even a passing interest in wine knows how important smell is when it comes to wine tasting. The delicate bouquet of a Riesling or the layered depth of a Cabernet Sauvignon will be lost amidst smoke, cologne, or perfume. Introducing unwanted smells to the tasting area is not proper tasting room etiquette. Don’t be that person who causes people to have to bury their nose in their wine glass just to figure out what the top notes of their wine are while trying to get away from your perfume.
4. Don’t only gravitate to the wines you know
Wine tasting experiences are the perfect chance to try new wines, risk-free. We often gravitate to the things we know and love in our lives, and that makes sense! Buying a new bottle of wine only to discover that you don’t like it at all is a disappointing experience, which is why your ticket to a wine tasting is well worth the cost! Of course, to reap the rewards of that, you’ll need to branch out and actually try some new wines.
To make the most of the experience, try to get a list of the producers that will be on-site ahead of time and prepare yourself with a game plan. If you just start tasting whatever wine you come across, you could deaden your taste buds. Instead, begin with sparkling wines first, then move to light whites, richer whites or light, tannic reds. From there, you can go to the more layered, rich reds.
Determining your likes and dislikes is all about exposure. Tasting multiple wines, even those you previously assumed you disliked, is the perfect way to get a more genuine understanding of your palate and your preferences. By doing this, you’ll get a deeper understanding of what you enjoy in particular wines.
At the end of your evening, finish with a palate cleanser like a glass of gorgeous champagne.
5. Don’t forget to eat!
Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach is a perfect recipe for getting drunk, and if you get drunk, you won’t be able to enjoy the rest of your evening or properly taste the rest of your wines. To avoid this, eat a healthy, well-balanced meal beforehand and snack on offered food at the tasting. You’ll also want to drink water between tastings to cleanse your palate and to keep you hydrated.
6. Remember to spit
There are going to be loads of gorgeous, tasty wines on offer and no one likes to waste good wine, but if you drink every tasting-size pour that’s offered to you, you’ll be tripping over your shoes in no time.
At a wine tasting, you’ll want to get the full experience by pacing yourself. You do that by spitting the wine as you go.
You’ll notice buckets on each table that are there just for that purpose. While it might be unglamorous (and a bit gross), all professional sommeliers do it. Winery staff is perfectly at ease with you spitting and understand that it’s common practice for wine tastings. There’s also no shame in pouring out the rest of a wine you didn’t like into the spit bucket as well.
Not sure how to spit your wine and not make a mess? Practice at home! If you’re spitting into a shared bucket that is relatively full, you’ll want to practice spitting not too hard and not too slow to avoid an unpleasant splashback.
If you want to rinse your glass, it’s better to do it with wine than with water, though experts say it’s actually not necessary unless you’re switching between reds and whites, or had a wine that had gone off.
Only have water to rinse with? Don’t worry. It’s not a faux pas.
7. Keep track of your wines!
You may be convinced that you’ll remember that gorgeous Pinot Noir or the fantastic red from France–but even with spitting your tastings–after a couple of dozen wines, you’ll be hard-pressed to remember which wine you preferred or even remember their names. This is why it’s so important to remember to bring something to write on so you can remember what wines you preferred. We also recommend using your phone to document labels so you can recognize them again when you go to purchase them.
If you’re trying to figure out how to describe you’re tasting in the wines, sprucing up on some wine descriptor words and what they mean will help you have a better grasp on which wine was your favorite.
8. Avoid purple teeth
Anyone who loves red wine knows well the unfortunate side effect of purplish teeth after imbibing in a couple of glasses or good, red wine. When you’re at a wine tasting experience, think ahead on how to avoid it by remembering to sip and swish water around your mouth regularly. You may be tempted to avoid this dilemma by brushing your teeth, but that will actually strip the protective enamel and isn’t recommended.
9. Talk to some of the winemakers
Wine can be a lot more fun when you know their backstory. If you have the chance to meet the winemaker and learn more about the wine, do it! It’s a great experience! Ask questions and learn more about the wine, and you’ll be surprised by the information you’ll get.
Even if a winemaker isn’t at the booth, winery staff are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the wine they’re selling and are often happy and willing to discuss the notes in the wine, the backstory, and the vineyard.
10. Designate a driver
While an event as classy as a wine tasting experience doesn’t bring drunk driving to mind, that doesn’t mean that the wine you’re drinking won’t make you drunk. Know how you’re getting home from the event without getting behind the wheel is essential.
In general, your body can metabolize about 20 milligrams per deciliter per hour. However, multiple factors will affect how fast your body will metabolize alcohol, and when it will be safe for you to drive again. All those samples can add up, and you don’t want to ruin your night by ending up in the back of a patrol car.
11. Have fun!
Don’t see wine tasting as too serious an event for you to take the time to enjoy yourself. While politeness is key at a wine tasting event and making sure that you don’t interfere in other people’s enjoyment of the wine, you’re still expected to enjoy yourself. Discuss the wine with other tasters, and you may learn some new fun wine facts and even make some new friends!
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