If wine tasting was an Olympic sport, I’d win gold. Seriously. I have this sport down to a science. I’ve done a number of wine tasting trips from Napa to Italy and I’ve learned a few things along the way. The key is having a plan and pacing yourself. Whether you’re new to wine tasting or an experienced oenophile, here are 10 tips to get the most out of your trip and really learn how to taste wines.
1. Set a goal for your wine tasting. Don’t laugh. Having a plan makes for a much more enjoyable experience. Are you looking to buy some inexpensive house wines for everyday drinking? Or would you like to acquire a few really great bottles to store for special occasions? Know what it is you’re looking for before you go and have a budget in mind.
2. Limit your day to three or four wineries. Otherwise, they’ll all run together. I find that I get caught up talking to those pouring the wines, and winemakers, if I get lucky. For me, it’s often the story behind the wines that attracts me to them. Allow yourself time to truly learn and hear the stories. Plus, all of the talking will keep you from getting tipsy if you’re sipping too many tastings.
3. If you’re truly serious about your tastings, book appointments and/or ask for private tastings. Many wineries, especially the popular ones, now require appointments. This ensures that the winery team has ample time to spend with visitors, and it makes for a more relaxed tasting experience. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop in to a winery you pass by that intrigues you. Just make it clear to the staff as you arrive what you’re looking for and if they know you’re a serious buyer, you’ll get better service.
4. Many wineries have set tasting flights, but don’t feel the need to ‘color within the lines’. If there’s a particular wine you’d like to taste, ask the server. Most will be willing to customize your tasting.
5. Don’t be a lush. Those spit buckets are there for a reason. One, they’re there for those wines you don’t particularly love. Don’t feel bad about spitting. All wine experts do. And two, wine tasting is just that – tasting. There’s a reason it’s not called wine drinking. So if you simply want to taste the flavor of the wine without getting ‘overserved’, use the spit bucket.
6. Don’t forget to eat. When I plan a wine tasting trip, I generally start mid to late morning. Then I’ll schedule a lunch stop after the first winery to get some food in my belly. Then I always aim for a mid-afternoon snack (and sober up session). And of course, a late afternoon nap is always a good idea!
7. Consider the memberships. A lot of wineries offer memberships which include special shipments of wine throughout the year. You choose the frequency. Often, you’ll have access to special releases as well. Plus, most memberships offer extra perks like free tastings for you and your guests throughout the year.
8. Hire a driver. That’s all I need to say about this one. If you want to be able to continue to learn to taste wines the next day, this is key!
9. Use an app. This is the best way to remember all of the wines you’ve tasted. I like Vivino. I simply take a photo of the bottle and Vivino will store all of the details in my app that I can refer back to later.
10. Fill out those tasting notes. Weeks later, you’ll forget why you liked this wine or hated that other one. Most wineries will give you a list of the wines you’re tasting with room to take notes.