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A Sommelier’s Tips for the Perfect Wine Tasting Experience

Wine tasting is one of the most fun activities I can think of. It’s about hanging out with friends, usually in a beautiful vineyard or cool wine room setting, discovering new things, and generally relaxing over a few sips of wine. What’s more, you do not need to be a wine aficionado to have a great time wine tasting. 

In today’s blog, we’ll offer some easy and useful tips and tricks to optimize your wine tasting experience.

Who Should Go Wine Tasting?

Everyone! Well as long as you’re of legal drinking age. Even dogs are welcome at many wine tasting venues. There is absolutely no experience necessary. In fact, most of the folks you run into at wine tastings are at their first tasting, or are just there to have fun. There is no reason to feel like you need to have any wine knowledge or otherwise feel intimidated. Yes, there are wine snobs out there, but these are few and far between. Most wine pros really only want to share their love for wine. 

This is especially true with the wine pros in the tasting room or vineyard that you might be visiting. Their job is to sell the wine you’re tasting; they don’t want you to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. They just want to make your experience as fun for you as possible.

What Types of Wine Tastings Are Available 

There are a plethora of wine tasting options available at several different price points. Let’s walk through a few of these. 

Tasting Rooms

You sit at a bar or table inside or outside and a wine pro serves you the wine tasting of your choice. 

The tasting choices usually include: 

  • Current Release Tasting (most common and cheapest)

  • Vertical Tasting (the same wine from multiple vintages)

  • Library Tasting (focus on older vintages of the producer’s best wines)

  • Wine and Food Pairing (simple cheese plates to very posh Michelin-rated pairings)

Winery Tours

The wine pro will escort you through the winery where the grapes are fermented, aged, and bottled before sitting down to one of the above noted tasting options.

Vineyard Tours, some that include ATV rides

This may include a winery tour, but you will also have an opportunity to walk or ride through the vineyards, before sitting down to one of the above noted tasting options. The best time for this is in the weeks just before harvest when the grapes are plenty.

Barrel Tastings

The wine pro will likely guide you through a winery tour before getting into the cave or cellar where the barrels are housed, where you will taste from 1-3 different barrels. This may be the same wine just in different stages of aging, or different grapes that will eventually be blended, or some combination. Bring a jacket as these spaces are cold.

Wine and Food Pairings

Many wine tastings will include some crackers, while some might offer a cheese or cheese and meat tray to accompany your tasting. Then there are the very posh experiences where a chef and wine pro will guide you through a sensory experience with well-prepared and perfectly paired food and wine. Bring your credit card!

Tips for Picking Your Wine Tasting Destinations

Once you’ve determined the wine region you’re visiting - Napa Valley, Tuscany, Bordeaux, Barossa Valley, Mendoza Valley, etc. - you’ll want to pick 2-3 vineyards or tasting rooms per day (more on this later) that host whichever of the aforementioned experiences you’re looking for. 

An effective first stop would be your favorite search engine. You know what to do from there. I tend to pay closer attention to the wine periodicals, like Decanter, Wine & Food, Wine Spectator, etc., as wine is their specialty, respectively. But these will just give you ideas with links to the actual vineyards or tasting rooms. From there pick the experience you want at the price point you’re most comfortable with.

If you’d prefer just to have someone else do the leg work for you, there are plenty of tour companies covering just about every wine region in world who will not only pick the vineyards or tasting rooms based on your preferences and budget, but they will provide all the transportation, a very critical part of your wine tasting adventure.

If you want to bring your dog, just check that the tasting destinations accommodate. Again, friendly dogs are welcome at many venues, but even here some of the wine experiences that are inside or around food will be more restricted. 

How to Get Around While Wine Tasting

If the tasting spots you’ve chosen are not within walking distance, you’ll need to plan for transportation. Any expedition focused on consuming alcohol demands that there be a designated driver committed to sobriety at least until a vehicle is no longer required. The best way to cover this if you don’t have a designated driver traveling with you is to engage a previously noted tour company or a local car service reserved for the day. They know the area and are likely familiar with the vineyards and wineries. This can be a bit pricey, though.

If a more budget friendly option is required, you’ll need to check the public transportation options, the availability of your favorite ride share in that area, or a taxi service. Note that the more remote your tasting destination(s) is, the more difficult it is to secure on-demand transportation options.

There are also some transportation options that accommodate for traveling with dogs. Check local listings to see what options are available for you.

What to Wear to a Wine Tasting

There is no dress code outside of actually wearing clothes. Wear what’s comfortable for you. I’m often in shorts and flip flops when I am tasting. It’s a rare winery that would require specific dress parameters, and even then, it’s usually for specific events like charity dinners or the like where a dress code will be clearly stated. So, come as you are. I might recommend bringing a Tide stick or some Wine Away just in case there’s a spill.

What NOT to Wear to a Wine Tasting

Heavy perfumes or colognes can ruin a wine tasting experience for those around you. Save that for your evening festivities.

How Many Wine Tastings to Schedule In a Day

This depends on whether you intend to taste wine or drink wine. If you intend to use the wine spittoon that will be present at your tasting, the only limitation you will have on the number of tastings is the hours in a day. Most vineyards have a set number of morning and then afternoon tastings, with most hosting their last tasting at roughly 4pm. 

Most folks enjoy drinking wine in a tasting setting. If you’re drinking wine at these tastings, you’ll probably want to limit your tasting experiences to two (2) in a day if you also want to taste the wine you’re drinking, as after 3 glasses of wine your senses are dulled and the wines will start to taste the same. 

How Many Glasses of Wine In a Bottle

The standard size of a wine bottle is 750ml, which translates to just over 25 ounces. A standard pour of wine is 5 ounces, so you’ll get 5 glasses of wine per bottle.

In a given tasting you will normally be served 4 or 5 2 ounce glasses, which translates to roughly 2 full glasses of wine per tasting. Add in another glass with lunch and if you follow the 2-tastings-in-a-day recommendation, you will have consumed a bottle of wine before dinner time.

So if you want to actually taste the wine you’re drinking, stay reasonably sober, and avoid a hangover (next section), you should find that 2 tastings is a solid target.

How to Avoid a Hangover 

A simple rule that my wine tasting crew has had in place for years now is that we only drink as many bottles of wine over the course of an evening as there are people actually drinking. This simple rule of thumb is of course not in the least scientific, but it has consistently proven effective. Now if you’re drinking 15%+ alcohol wines, you might want to taper that down a bit, but stay in the ballpark.

As it might be difficult to actually manage to that 1 bottle per person rule 2 ounces at a time, it’s important to follow the age-old approach of drinking lots of water all through your wine tasting adventure. It also helps to show up to your wine adventure having already invested in hydrating yourself. 

You should also eat throughout the day, and not just the crackers they might serve at your tastings. 

If you’ve disregarded any or all of the noted preventive measures and you’re already suffering, you probably already have a slew of approaches from ibuprofen, to high electrolyte beverages like Liquid I.V., to going for that hair of the dog. I won’t say I told you so.

That’s a Wrap

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