Learning to taste wine (like really taste it) is just like learning to appreciate anything else, such as food, art or music. It can be an acquired taste with a bit of a learning curve — you tend to get what you put into it when it comes to pleasure. The more time and effort you put into learning about it, the more you’ll learn to love and appreciate it for the art form it is.
Here’s the thing. If you are just looking to find the wine that appeals most to your current sensibilities, then any wine that suits your taste could be a good wine by those standards. However, if you truly want to understand the nuances of being a wine connoisseur, there’s a lot more to it than simply deciding if that Merlot you grabbed on sale at the market is worth drinking next time you’ve plunked down on the couch for a Netflix marathon.
We’ve put together some wine tasting tips and best practices to take you from novice leisure drinker to budding sommelier just in time for your first tasting tour. Here’s what you can expect from your first wine excursion.
First things first. What’s the protocol here? Wine, being a card-carrying member of the “finer things in life” club, comes along with some rules in the realm of etiquette and expectations. The thing is, most of these are aimed at showing courtesy to the winery that is hosting the wine tasting event. You’ll want to dress appropriately, not be too loud and boisterous, and be respectful of the work that goes into creating the wines being offered. This all seems like common sense, but we’ll give you a quick run through nonetheless:
What to wear: Dress casual, but avoid sweatpants, shorts or anything that belongs on the couch. Simple, solid colors are a good choice, and you can’t go wrong with a nice pair of jeans. Wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll be doing a lot of walking.
Skip the perfume: Seeing how our sense of taste and smell are so closely linked, strong scents can really wreak havoc on the tasting experience for everyone in the space. Avoid wearing any heavy perfumes, using strong body wash, lotion or aftershave. It should also go without saying, but avoid smoking before attending the tasting. Not only can others smell the lingering tobacco scent, but smoking also hinders your ability to properly taste all the undertones in the wines.
Ditch the gum: Fresh breath is great, but gum and mints mess with the taste of the wine during the tasting — similar to how eating immediately after brushing your teeth generally makes for a bad taste in your mouth. Avoid popping a mint until you’re ready to head home.
Pay attention: Pay attention to the person leading the tour. It is bad to ignore the winery greeter, as they are offering a full experience. They’ll tell you all about the wine and its origin, the history of the winery, etc. All these details come together to create a truly memorable experience that means more than grabbing a drink with your buds. If that’s why you’re on the tour, then you should probably just head to a bar instead — you’ll save some bucks, but you probably won’t learn anything new.
If you don’t have anything nice to say: While the joy of wine tasting comes from the discourse that comes along with the territory, there’s no need to be disrespectful if you happen to not like a particular wine in the tasting lineup. Share your thoughts and any stray observations, but always be thoughtful and courteous. If you really loved that particular Cabernet Sauvignon, by all means let everyone know (after they’ve had a chance to taste, of course). The wine greeter will be happy to hear it.
To buy or not to buy: Of course, many wineries hope you’ll enjoy their wines so much you’ll want to take some home. Do know, however, you’re not on the hook for purchasing any bottles of wine as a courtesy. You may just want to write down which ones you liked best and order them when you get back home.
Since you are paying for the wine tour, you are not expected to purchase additional bottles of wine, unless you really like it and plan to enjoy it at home. We just want it to be clear that you’re not obligated to spend additional money as a sign of courtesy.
Tipping: Rather than buying wine out of obligation, you may want to leave the tasting room host a tip for sharing their expertise and leading the tasting. If you enjoyed your experience, by all means, let the staff know.
Spit vs. swallow: Alright, we know this is the wine tasting question that’s been burning in the back of your mind. While it may seem a bit rude to the uninitiated, spitting the wine out is perfectly okay. Most people swallow, but if you’d rather stay sharp during the visit, the winery will likely have some sort of spittoon on hand so you can dispose of any residual wine — if not, a paper cup will suffice.
Wine experts who taste multiple wines at a time will spit wine into receptacles to avoid consuming alcohol and dulling the palate. We promise, as rude as it may seem, no one will bat an eye.
Pace yourself, and don’t come hungry: Eat before you go. Wine, as we all know, can get you loosened up in short order and therefore, you’ll want to eat a hearty meal before you go on your wine tour to help soak up the alcohol. Our limousine wine tours generally include meals, so we’ve got you covered.
You’ll also want to stay hydrated. Carry a big bottle of water with you and don’t forget the healthy snacks — we’re thinking trail mix, nuts, granola bars, fresh fruit or veggies — just in case you get hungry while you’re there. Many tasting rooms also offer snacks to munch on during the tasting as well. A good rule of thumb is to plan on drinking at least as much water as you do wine, particularly if your tour lands on a hot day. Drinking in the heat can be a recipe for disaster.
Another note on snacks: It should go without saying, but since we’re talking etiquette here, the winery will likely provide some small bites like crackers or bread to help cleanse the palette between wines. Don’t stuff your face with these modest provisions.
What’s a Wine Tour Like?
Most wineries focus on both what’s unique and important to their individual winery. Many of them include a visit to the tank room, the barrel room and the press pad where the wine grapes are taken immediately after being plucked from the vine.
And of course, you’ll pay a visit to the tasting room, where the magic tends to happen. When you arrive, check out the tasting menu to get a sense of the offerings. The tasting room greeter will likely ask you what kinds of wines you like, so as to offer an experience you’ll find enjoyable.
Try to focus on wines you’re already interested in learning about. If you truly don’t know, try a few wines from your local market to get a sense of your preferences a few days before heading out on the tour. Or, you can ask for a recommendation during the tour, but be prepared as some of the suggestions may not be to your liking. Going in blind could be a great experience for those with a sense of adventure, while individuals who prefer to be prepared will want some background information before the tasting begins. It’s up to you.
If you need more information, ask the staff member on site. They’ll have a backlog of knowledge on the wines being tasted, as well as the ones that were left off the menu. One small side note: Do not ask to try a wine that is not part of the tasting menu. It comes off as disrespectful.
If you have some idea of what you’d like to try, you can ask to taste wines vertically, which means sampling the same wine from multiple vintages, or horizontally, meaning you’ll try a variety of wines from the same year or vintage.
While the novice taster might expect that the key to wine sampling success is to find the wines you like, there’s a whole lot more to the process of wine tasting. Making a snap judgement based on your own personal preferences isn’t exactly thoughtful or methodical at all. Sure, you could argue that finding your grape-based soulmate is the whole point of even taking a tasting tour, but once you take it a step further and really understand why you like or don’t like something, that’s when you’re on the right track.
You might find out you have a soft spot for an oaky Chardonnay or love uncovering the hidden fruit flavors in different reds. Hey, you might even find a new hobby. Best of all, you’ll be able to tell why a wine is bad or good, which should help you out next time you’re tasked with selecting a wine for your next dinner party.
Tasting Tips and Tricks – How to Sip Like a Pro
Yeah, yeah. You’re probably thinking, “Drinking is easy. I got this.” You’re likely right, but learning to taste properly will be a real game changer for your burgeoning palette. On your tour, you’ll get some pointers on how to properly identify the different characteristics in each wine, taking into account the different tastes and smells that make each wine special. You’ll also learn a bit about the grapes on the property, as well as which of those grapes were blended with wines from other regions around the world.
Here’s how to sip like you mean it:
Pour: Wine should be poured into a clean, clear glass (winery staff will take care of this for you, if needed). Make sure there’s enough room in the glass so you can swirl the glass without worrying about spillage. If you only plan to sample the wine before moving on to another, don’t pour yourself an entire glass. You’ll want a few sips of each.
Observe: Hold the glass by the stem. Check out the wine’s color and clarity by holding the glass up to the light or against a light colored backdrop. Color varies with each wine. Whites get darker over time, while reds can turn sort of brown or rust-colored, and tend to lose intensity.
Swirl: Here’s what you generally see television wine experts doing — trust us, you’ll at least look like a pro. Gently swirl the wine glass for just a few seconds. This simple action allows the wine to breathe, drawing out its unique aromas.
Sniff: Next, breathe those aromas in through your nose while holding the glass a few inches from your face. Then, get closer and take a deep breath. Do this a few times and think about what you’re smelling here. Is it floral? Woodsy? Are there any familiar fruits in the mix?
Identifying the myriad aromas at play can give you an indication of what the wine will actually taste like. On the flip side, scents like mold, rotten eggs, cheese or vinegar (sensing an unsavory theme here?) can give you a heads up that the wine is spoiled, and you’ll be better off not drinking this one.
Sip: After you’ve let your nose take the lead on this one, you can finally take a sip. Let the wine coat every taste bud before finally swallowing (or spitting), and take in all the flavors. The more seasoned wine pros often take an extra breath of air with the wine in their mouth to draw out any hidden nuances.
Another point on taste and smell: Sniffing the wine, then sipping and letting it linger in your mouth really heightens your perception of the different flavors and nuances that become less obvious when guzzling down a full glass. Since nearly all of our taste really comes from our ability to smell, taking a few seconds to breathe in the wine gives the two senses a chance to work together as a team to bring out a whole host of flavors, aromas and textures.
Another way to isolate different flavors is to try holding your nose while you swallow a mouthful of wine. You’ll notice that most of the flavor has become muted and far less interesting. It’s a good way to both pick up on the dominate flavors in a particular glass, as well as learn to appreciate your nose for the valuable tasting tool it is.
While engaging in this sensory exercise, ask yourself what you really think of the wine. Do any flavors in particular stand out? How does it feel in your mouth? Is it dry, sweet? Feel free to ask the staff any questions about the wine, but avoid offering your opinion of the wine until everyone in the room has had the opportunity to try it. Hearing others’ opinions on how something tastes can put a damper on the experience. Don’t ruin it for everyone else, though.
- Now, let’s talk: Part of the fun of becoming more knowledgeable about wine is learning to hold a conversation about what you’re tasting. Once everyone in your group has had a chance to taste the wine, and mulled it over for a second, share what you liked or didn’t like about that wine. Bonus points if you’re able to identify some tasting notes. This is also a good place to ask the winery host to weigh in with their own commentary on the wine. They’ll likely have a lot to add.
- Rinse and repeat: It’s helpful to swish with water between wines to give your palette a chance to regroup. Most tasting rooms will have water on hand so you can cleanse your palette or rinse your glass when switching from reds to whites. You can try the same wine and try picking up on different pieces of the puzzle or give something new a try.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions: The winery staff is there to help and will likely be more than happy to share their interests with visitors — these are generally people with a passion for wine, and they are great learning opportunities for tasters.
After the first tasting, get ready for more wine. Many of our wine tour packages include a few stops to different wineries. Expect to hop back in the limo and head to the next spot for another adventure. We generally offer meals (specifics are determined by each tour package) between stops, and the tour lasts for several hours.
Though we’ve mentioned this before, as a general rule, you’ll want to pace yourself. All those little sips of wine start to add up, particularly after four or five hours of walking around. Stay hydrated and spit out the wine, if need be. You’ll be better off if you stay alert throughout the day, as you’ll be able to pick up more nuances in the wine, information about the grapes and the properties, etc.
Find the Right Wine Tasting Event for You — Book Your Limousine Wine Tour Today
Do you love to try new kinds of wine? Perhaps you’ve always wanted to be an expert, but you aren’t really sure where to start? Our knowledgeable staff will help you select the right wine tour package for you — whether that’s to celebrate a birthday, a milestone anniversary or even just a fun outing with a friend.
We offer everything from romantic wine tasting getaways and bachelorette parties to tours you can join on your own. Regardless of what you decide to choose, you’ll explore Pennsylvania wine country in style with one of Premiere #1 Limousine Service’s wine tasting tours in PA.
Our staff carefully curates a collection of the best Central Pa. wineries each time we put together a wine tasting tour, and we guarantee you’ll have a great time whether this is your first time on a wine tour or you’re a certified wine snob. Our luxury limousines will chauffeur you to various vineyards in the Central Pa. region.
On the day of the tour, you’ll be picked up and driven to nearby communities to sample their delicious wares. Although we suggest pacing yourself out of respect for our friends at the local wineries, we’ll be there to safely drive you home, no matter how many glasses of wine you end up drinking throughout the day.
Contact us today to book one of our upcoming limousine wine tours, and get started practicing your wine tour tasting etiquette!