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De-mystify Wine Tasting with this Tasting Guide

Wine tasting can be overwhelming at first, but keep a few simple guidelines in mind, and you will soon discover what a wonderful hobby it can be.


You'll need all your senses


Because the senses of taste and smell are so closely related, odors can affect your ability to taste wine.  This means that smoke, strong perfume and cologne, and other strong odors are generally not smiled upon in a wine tasting room. 


What to do first


Enter the winery or tasting room and go to the tasting area.  At some wineries you will be offered a tour of the facilities

before tasting.  If the tasting room is very busy, you may have to wait until there is room for your group at the bar.


The host will give you a glass and a list of the wines being offered for tasting that day, sometimes with tasting notes or information about the wine.  Feel free to ask questions as you go – in fact, this usually makes the tasting experience much more enjoyable.


You will usually taste white wines first, and then reds.  This is because the stronger flavors of the red wines can overwhelm your palate if tasted first, making it more difficult to appreciate the nuances of the lighter, fruitier white wines.  Dessert wines are tasted last, since they are sweeter.


Finally... getting to the tasting!


You will be poured a small amount, usually one ounce, just enough for two or three sips.  First, swirl the wine gently in the glass to aerate it and release the aromas.  Next, smell the wine.  Finally, take a sip and carefully savor the wine.


Pay attention to what aromas you notice when you smell the wine, and whether you taste the same things.  If there are tasting notes, look over them and see if you can pick up on any of the flavors listed.  Do you agree or disagree?  How would you rate the wine?  Every individual has a unique palate and different preferences.  Everyone in your group will probably have a different favorite out of all the wines you taste.


There is usually water available to rinse your glass (a good idea when moving from whites to reds, but not necessary between each taste).  There are also usually crackers available, which you can use to “cleanse your palate” between tastes.  (Please note, the wine tasting bar is not a snack bar – eat crackers sparingly, not by the handful!)  Some tasting rooms even have other foods available, like chocolate, which pair well with a particular wine they are tasting.


What if I don't like the wine?


If you don’t care for the wine, or are visiting many wineries and want to limit your consumption, it is perfectly acceptable to pour any remaining wine into the dump bucket, located on the tasting bar.  You do not have to drink the whole sample. 



Keep in mind that at each tasting room you visit, you will typically drink the equivalent of one glass of wine if you drink all the samples.  (One glass = 5 ounces.)  It may not seem like you're drinking that much, but it can add up!  In addition to the dangers of driving while intoxicated, your palate will be gradually dulled by the alcohol, preventing you from tasting the finer nuances of the wine as you go along.  It’s a good idea, if you are visiting several wineries, to take your time in between visits, perhaps touring other points of interest in the area.


It is ok to skip any of the wines on the tasting list, whether based on personal preference or in the interests of limiting consumption, for the reasons discussed above.  You may want to taste only one varietal at each winery you visit, and compare them.  Or, you may want to try something new or unusual at each place.  Remember that wines can differ greatly from one winery to another, so don’t necessarily pass up something you tried and didn’t like at the last place.


Tasting fees - good or bad?


There may be a small tasting fee, usually $1-$5 per person, which is often waived if you buy any wine.  Generally, do not ask for a second taste of any wine unless you are seriously interested in buying it.  Tasting rooms are limited by law in the amount of wine they can serve customers.  On the other hand, many tasting rooms are now offering the option for customers to purchase a glass of their favorite wine, to be enjoyed at a picnic table or during a stroll through the vineyards.  Some wineries even have cafes where you can purchase a sandwich or salad to go along with your wine.


Tasting fees are a subject of much debate in the wine industry.  Some people feel it is an unfair expense that turns people away from tasting rooms.  Others feel that it is a valid practice which, among other things, prevents wine tasting from turning into "free happy hour".  Whichever opinion you side with, remember to approach each wine tasting opportunity with respect for the winemaker and everyone else involved in the process.


Keep these guidelines in mind, and soon you’ll be swirling, sniffing, and sipping like a pro! 

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