Wine Tasting Etiquette
Wine tasting is one of my favorite pastimes. Growing up in the Napa Valley I’ve had the opportunity to visit my choice of over four hundred wineries within less than an hour of one another. The coolest part is that each tasting room is unique. Although the distance between tasting rooms sprinkled throughout the valley is not drastic, I’ve come to learn that the differences in practices and limitations in these tasting rooms are. In order to make your experience as enjoyable as possible (and avoid those awkward situations), here some tips on how to plan an amazing day of wine tasting:
1. Call and see if tastings require an appointment
When setting your wine tasting itinerary, it’s always best to CALL the winery and see whether or not tasting requires an appointment (mandated by the County of Napa). Internet research is not always reliable; sometimes websites may not be up to date or under construction. Other factors include space, staffing, events, etc. Most tasting rooms, like Honig, take appointments on a first come, first served basis. If we can we will. The last thing we want is for guests to come all the way to the winery and be turned away because staff and space are limited. A phone call could ensure you a spot and save you a wasted trip.
2. Limit the size of the group and number of wineries
I’m going to have to reference tip number one. Most wineries in the Napa and Sonoma area are small family operations and are not really set up for groups in the double-digit size. Also, the cost of a tasting might be significantly more expensive the larger the group. Once again, a phone call to the winery would be the best way to set up whatever sort of tasting you had in mind. From experience, it’s best to keep groups no larger than six people.
When it comes to the number of wineries to visit remember- don’t bite off more than you can chew. The whole point of wine tasting is to TASTE the difference in wines. When you try to “marathon” taste and hit as many wineries as possible, two things are bound to happen: the first is a phenomenon known as palate fatigue. When your palate gets overloaded, all of the wine you drink will start to taste the same and defeats the purpose of wine tasting. The second is intoxication. There’s a time and a place for everything. Tasting rooms are not bars, and the intention shouldn’t be to get as smashed as possible during the day. Try and keep it classy.
3. No perfume, cologne or smoking
I cannot stress this one enough. Wine tasting is an activity that requires most of your senses. The two big ones, taste and smell, are easily compromised by the lingering scent of Chanel No. 5, or the smell of a smoking Cohiba. Sure, wine has floral and earthy components that can be found in perfume and cigars- but I want to be sure the wine is all that I smell. Strong odors can contaminate small areas (i.e. tasting rooms) and could ruin not only your wine tasting experience, but also the experience of those around you.
4. Have breakfast before tasting and don’t skip lunch
It may not look like much but the small pours of wine definitely add up. Having a decent breakfast is crucial to surviving a day of wine tasting. Remember, every winery is unique and may not have food available when you get there- most wineries in Napa will not. There are some food and wine pairing options, but those are nothing more than small bites and not what I would count on to sustain you. Do some research before your excursion and be sure to find somewhere to eat lunch as well. Lunch will help soak up some of the wine you’ve had and also revamp your palate.
5. Sober Driver!
This is by far the most important one. I shouldn’t have to elaborate on this one, but here it goes: don’t drink and drive! If nobody in your group is willing to volunteer for the vehicular responsibilities, then hire a driver- there are plenty of companies throughout the bay area that have anything from limousines to SUVs to literally any sized car you would need. There are also tour buses that pre-plan a day of tasting, and some will actually provide a lunch for you. It’s well worth a few extra bucks to not have to worry about driving, and get the most out of your tasting experience.
For any other questions you may have, about bringing kids, or dogs, picnic facilities, etc. I would refer you back to suggestion number 1. Hopefully these tips will help you plan a successful and enjoyable day of wine tasting. Be safe and have fun!