Wine should never be intimidating. It’s meant to be enjoyed with family, friends, and food, so below are a few suggestions to make the most out of your wine experiences.
The first thing to remember about wine tasting in any venue is not to use scented soaps or cleansers, after shave, colognes, or perfumes. If you do, you, as well as those around you, will not be able to smell the wine. The second thing to remember is not to use toothpaste and mouthwash, or eat anything with very strong, minty, or spicy flavors before tasting wine, as they may spoil your tasting.
Once you arrive to taste, you will discover that most wineries charge for tastings to cover the cost of the samples, tasting bar employees, etc. The fee may or may not be applied toward a wine purchase, so ask before tasting so that you know what you will be receiving for your fee.
You will be served a small sample of each wine you wish to taste. You should look at the wine and make sure it’s not cloudy, as that might indicate spoilage. Next, you should swirl the wine in the glass so that it comes in contact with the glass, so as to release the wine’s aromas. Put your nose into the glass and sniff the wine. You should smell a variety of aromas, but if you smell something offensive, that could also indicate spoilage. After sniffing, sip some of the wine and swish it in your mouth like mouthwash so that you taste it with your entire palate, then spit out the wine in the provided spittoon or receptacle. Remember, you are there to taste, not drink. Usually wineries provide water or plain crackers to cleanse your palate between wines. ThirstyGirl Leslie Sbrocco has published a short, how-to article that you also might want to read before heading out to taste.
With regard to how many tastings you can do in a day, most wineries open around 10:00 a.m. and close around 5:00 p.m., so you want to allow at least an hour per tasting and at least an hour or two for lunch. If you make reservations for tastings in advance, ask how long you should allow. A typical schedule might be one tasting in the morning, a break for lunch, then two tastings in the afternoon. It may be possible to do more than three tastings per day, but if you do, the last tasting might not be very good, as your palate will feel numb.
The goal of a tasting is for you to discover and purchase wine that you enjoy. I usually bring my own wine purchases home in The Wine Check, which is a bag that holds a 12-bottle shipper box. For domestic air travel, you will have to pay a checked luggage fee to check the Wine Check or a shipper box, usually around $25 for the first checked item, which can be less than shipping. However, some wineries may offer discounted or free shipping with a minimum purchase; if so, take them up on the offer.
Wine at Home
Each bottle should be stored in a cool, dark area on its side to keep the cork moist and reduce the chance of spoilage. Don’t store wines in your refrigerator as the cold temperatures will dry out the cork. With regard to decanting or aerating wine, white and sparkling wines do not need to be decanted. Some people like to open a bottle of red wine and taste the wine at various stages, from opening to a few hours later, to see how the wine evolves. Some full-bodied red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Zinfandel may benefit from being opened and decanted for an hour or more before serving. With regard to wine and food pairings, a variety of cheeses is always good to have on hand. For more detailed wine and food pairing information, this article is a great place to start.
Wine bars are establishments where the primary focus is wine. I love wine bars and frequent them often because they offer what are called wine flights. A wine flight is a tasting of three or four (or more) wines side by side, so you can compare wines of the same region, grape variety, or vintage. I always order a flight (or two), so I can sample different wines. Wine bars usually offer appetizers to accompany the flights. In this venue, you will able to enjoy a larger sample of each wine you taste without having to spit.
Choosing a wine with a meal can sometimes be challenging. If you are unsure which foods to pair with which wines, don’t hesitate to ask the server (or sommelier) for suggested pairings, as they should be familiar with the restaurant’s food and beverage options and be trained in basic pairing knowledge. I always ask for pairing suggestions, as the server may offer options I never considered.
Once the wine arrives at the table, the server should open the wine, pour a small amount for you to taste first to make sure you like it and it’s not spoiled, then pour the wine for you and your dinner companion. A good server will keep an eye on your table and refill your glasses for you. If he or she is not that attentive, refill by pouring about 4-5 ounces into your glass and turn the bottle slowly up at an angle to keep it from running down the side of the bottle. If some does escape, just wipe it with a napkin.
Now that you know wine is nothing to be afraid of, grab a special someone, and go enjoy it!