Wine tasting is fun and most people that are out and about touring and tasting are in it to learn about wine and also to enjoy a variety of different wines and wine styles. Most are not wine connoisseurs, they are just out to have fun and maybe learn a little bit along the way.
Sure, there are “suggested” methods of participating in a tasting, but there are no hard and fast rules to follow or to be broken. Relax, enjoy, have fun, and no matter how you’ve come to it, know that you’re just fine the way you are. Remember, wine is a process of discovery. There are no prerequisites. Simply have an open mind and let the experience guide your adventure.
That said, if it’s your first time on a wine tour, it’s nice to have a little primer. Here are some handy tips for your first foray into wine touring and tasting:
1. Keep an open mind
You may have tried an oaky chardonnay at a restaurant and maybe you didn't enjoy it as much as you hoped. However, this doesn't mean you don’t like chardonnay. Chardonnay is widely known as the “winemaker’s grape”, as it takes well to a wide range of winemaking techniques. To put it simply, you can taste 10 chardonnays and they’re all going to be different. Give it a chance!
2. Meet, greet, and ask questions
Wine tours are a great way to learn about wine, but it’s also an opportunity to learn about the people behind the winery. Is it family owned and operated? How did they get into the wine industry? What’s their winemaking philosophy? Is it worth all the hard work? Getting to know the people behind the business opens up new avenues you can consider when you visit other wineries. How do they differ? How are they the same? Wine tasting is not just about the wine, it’s about the people behind it, and it's also about the experience.
3. Be adventurous
Not sure what wines to try? Ask the person behind the tasting bar. Everybody that works at a winery loves to talk about their favourite wines, so why not ask them what they would recommend for you to try, and even what food they might suggest pairing it with. If you don't know whether you like sweet or dry wines, red or white wines, simply be open to their suggestions, even if you are unsure. You might stumble upon your next new favourite!
4. Use all of your senses
Wine is a sensory experience that engages all of your senses – yes, even hearing! Observe the wine before you taste. Make note of the colour, the clarity, and the viscosity in the glass. Next, nose the wine (smell it). Interestingly enough, most wines don’t taste like they smell, but see if there are any aromas in there that you recognize … flowers? Spices? Animal? Mineral? Earth? Anything’s possible. When you sip the wine, swish it around in your mouth a bit before you swallow. Notice the sensations in your mouth: if there’s a tingle at the tip of your tongue, the wine is a little (or a lot) sweet. If it tingles at the sides of your tongue, that’s acidity. Bitterness on the back of your tongue is tannin, which gives a drying sensation in the mouth like an over-steeped tea bag. If you feel heat at the back of your throat, that’s a sign of high alcohol. Is it silky? Is it rustic? Is it full-bodied and voluptuous, or is it light and fruity? Every single wine is different, just like every person is different.
5. Don't judge by your first sip
Wine is a living thing, and it changes when it blends with the heat of your body, the air temperature, and the saliva in your mouth. Allow the wine to unfold on your palate. Notice the flavours as they change, and take note of how long those flavours linger in your mouth before and after you swallow. This is called the “finish”. A long, complex finish is an indicator of a highly concentrated wine.
6. Hire a driver
There's nothing worse than going out with a group of friends and having to draw straws to see who’s going to be the DD. Now, there's nothing wrong with being the DD, but if all of you are interested in tasting as you go, it’s best to hire someone to drive you around. That way you can just relax and have fun without worry.
7. Ask at the wineries who else you should visit
While you’re tasting, it's a great opportunity to ask the tasting room staff what other destinations they would recommend. By this point, they will have gotten to know you better and will know what tickles your taste buds, and they might be able to recommend some “hidden gems” that might be a little off the beaten track.
8. Try out the new wineries
Just because they are a new winery does not mean that the winemaker is new to the business or is less experienced. Some great questions to ask at a new winery might include how they found their winemaker, or maybe something about the winemakers’ history. You might just find that their winemaker is actually very famous in the wine community, or that he used to work at a winery you are familiar with in another region – maybe he is known for making wines in Italy, France, or California. You’ll never know unless you ask!
So, forget about all those stuffy rules you think you have to follow when you’re out on a wine tour. Just relax and open yourself up to new flavours and experiences. It’s a fabulous way to spend a day with family and friends. Cheers!