Heading out for an afternoon or evening of wine tasting should be a fun experience for all involved. For those of you new to wine tasting, it can also be a bit daunting. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your wine tasting experience.
When you have a designated driver, you won’t feel have to say no to that red or rosé you’ve always wanted to try. Your designated driver could be a friend or family member, or it could be one of the dozens of wine touring companies here in BC.
Having a designated driver is simply a smart choice. Each tasting is usually one to two ounces. Taste four wines at one location and you’ve had one glass of wine. Visit three wineries and you’ll probably have the equivalent of three glasses of wine. You can see why a designated driver is a necessity. That way you can taste even more wine!
What to Wear
You’ll be on your feet a lot during your wine tasting tour, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes. Many of our wineries have stand up tastings, and if you’re on a big tour, you could be on your feet for four hours.
Your wine tasting tours sometimes include tours of the wine cellars and the vineyards. Wear something that works best in a cool space, an outdoor space and in the winery tasting room. Bring a light sweater, just in case as the weather can change rather quickly. Better to have it than not. Also, wear darker colours if you think you might spill a drop or two. One well timed joke as you’re taking a sip of red wine and it could ruin that nice while shirt.
Budget Your Money
Find out how much, if anything, is charged for your wine tastings. Many wineries charge for the tasting but wave the fee if you buy at least one bottle of wine. Others give a discount. Some tour companies include the tastings with their fees, others don’t.
When you know what wineries you’ll visit, go to their website or call them and find out. It’s better to have too much of a budget, than not enough, especially if you taste your new favourite wine at the last winery you visit!
Wine makers and winery servers love to talk about their wines. The more questions you ask about the grapes, the vineyards, and the process of making that particular wine, the more you’ll learn. Soon you may be able to tell where a wine is grown, just by tasting it!
Swirl, Sniff, Sip
When you’re given the wine to taste, hold your glass by the stem or the base of the wine glass. Holding it with your hand on the bowl will warm it, which will change the flavour. Look at the wine and notice its clarity. Every wine has a slight variation in colour. Now, swirl it gently, as this aerates the wine, helping it breathe.
You may also notice droplets that join together and run down the inside of the glass. Most people call these legs. You can impress your friends and tell them it’s a result of the Gibbs-Marangoni Effect. (feel free to google it). The more legs on the inside of your glass, the higher the alcohol content or sugar content.
Now it’s time to sniff. Your nose plays a major role in how you interpret the taste of things. Go ahead, get your nose inside the glass and take a nice, slow intake of air. Some people call this the aroma, others call it the bouquet. By definition, the bouquet is the initial smells you get when you first sniff your wine. The aroma is what you smell after that a couple swirls once the wine has been aerated.
Now it’s time to sip. You will hear a multitude of terms about wine and what to watch for. For example your host may tell you to see if you detect hits of dark cherry or tobacco. Perhaps, to the winemaker that was what they first tasted when they created that particular wine. You may taste something else, as everyone has slightly different tasting skills.
Once you’ve taken your first sip, hold the wine in your mouth for about four seconds. Focus on your tongue. What do you taste? Is it musky or fruity. Can you define the fruit. Is it more like cherry or blueberry? Can you taste citrus? Is it more like lemon or grapefruit? Red wines have more earthy smells and flavours like tobacco, pepper or even leather. Can you pinpoint them on the wine you’ve sampled? Close your eyes, if only for a few seconds, it may help you home in on that elusive flavour you’re experiencing.
This can be a hard one for newer wine tasters. After all you don’t want to insult your host and tell them you dislike their wine. However, there are nice ways to say it. Just tell them that particular wine is not to your liking. They deal with tens of thousands of wine tasters in a season, and they know not everyone likes the same wines. They may even suggest a different wine for you to taste, depending on what you tell them about your likes and dislikes.
If you really dislike the wine, simply spit it out. Both the wine in your mouth, and the left-over wine in your glass go into the spit bucket. It’s not rude, in fact it’s what professional sommelier’s do. It allows the taster to better assess the flavour of the wine, and if you don’t swallow, you stay sober longer.
Food and Water
Make sure you don’t go wine tasting on an empty stomach. Take sips of water between different varieties of wines when offered, and feel free to crunch down a few crackers to cleanse your palate. Better yet, plan your trip so you visit a winery with a restaurant so you can enjoy some of your newly tasted wines with some local deliciousness.
Last but not least, have fun. This is your day, your time to learn something new and enjoy some delicious wines. If you go with a designated driver instead of a tour company, not to worry. Many wineries have beverages without alcohol for the DD to enjoy, many of them made from fruits grown on their own property.
Don’t forget to write down the wine name and winery and how you felt about it as you continue on your wine tasting tour. This way you’ll have a record of what you like, what you don’t like, and what to look for on your next wine tasting adventure.