Love wine but never had the nerve to go to a wine tasting? We get it. Plenty of people are a bit intimidated at the thought of going to a winery tasting knowing that they could be surrounded by people saying things like, “I can taste the dirt in this,” or, “The tannins in this are impressive,” knowing that their chief inner narrative would be, “What’s a tannin?”
Good news, wine lovers. You don’t need to know a thing about tannins, acids, or vintage years to enjoy a wine tasting. The first rule to enjoying yourself is to throw out all the rules you think you need to know in order to enjoy a tasting experience. Wine is what the drinker makes of it, and everyone’s preferences are different. Here are six simple steps to enjoying a wine tasting, even if you’re unsure of whether to swish and spit or drink the whole glass.
Swirl & Sniff.
Put your glass on the table, hold the glass, and quickly turn it in a circular motion three to five times. By swirling the wine, it spreads the wine around the surface of the glass and will release the aromas. This is one of the richest and most complex steps of wine tasting. Put your nose inside the glass and take a deep sniff. Again, don’t worry about being right or wrong and let your instincts help you analyze what you smell. Not only will the aromas give you hints of what you will be tasting, but they will help train you for future tastings and help you hone in on your preferences. A full-bodied Cabernet will smell like plums and blackberries with hints of vanilla and toast. Chardonnay has a distinct and delicate bouquet of aromas that includes lemon, vanilla, and tropical fruit. It is often suggested to leave cologne and perfume at home as it can interfere with this step and confuse your sense of smell.
Swish & Spit or Swallow?
In this step, you want to decide if you want to swallow the wine or spit it out into a disposable cup. Many will opt for spitting the wine out if they are spending the day tasting and trying several varietals so that they do not confuse their palate and pace themselves on their alcohol intake.
Ask Questions. Some people may know the names of popular wine regions and showy grape blends. Most won’t. Both are OK. If you feel like the wine steward is speaking French when they rattle off the vineyard names, grape varieties, or flavors you should be looking for, feel free to stop them and ask for clarification. Winemakers love to talk about these things and often forget that not everyone knows their jargon. If you want to do a little research before your tasting, look into what the region is known for. Certain grape varieties, like Chardonnay, take on characteristics of the soil where they are grown, meaning that a Chardonnay in an area known for producing great Chardonnay could be quite memorable. A quick Google search should suffice.
Build a Budget.
The cost of a wine tasting will vary greatly. They can vary anywhere from complimentary to upwards of $50 per experience. It’s never a bad idea to ask about the cost – and what is included in that cost – before choosing which wineries you’ll visit. If you luck into a value-driven tasting, it’s considered polite to purchase a bottle at the end of the tasting.
- Take Notes. It’s unrealistic for anyone to be expected to remember all of the details about five wines considered in such a small window of time. No one expects you to do that. It’s totally acceptable to ask for a pen and paper at the start of your experience (plenty of vineyards will even provide this without prompting) for you to jot down notes as you go. There is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to what to write, either. It’s just as acceptable to write, “notes of raspberry” as it is to write, “yuck.” Your notes are used to help you remember what you liked, what you didn’t, and why.
- Don’t plan on consuming solely wine during your experience. You should plan to drink water between the tastings, both to clear your palate as well as to keep you hydrated, as well as to consume small bites. Most wineries will provide a cheese board or nuts, but if they don’t, be sure to ask if you may order one. It highlights the flavor of the wine and keeps you from feeling woozy.