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This FREE Wine Education Course Includes: Why Wine? | Wine & Health | Social History | Sensory User's Manual | Grape Growing | Wine Making | Varietal Profiles | Sparkling Wine Wine Information on Reading Labels, Selecting and Buying Wine, Serving and Storing, etc. Taste includes the compiled wine tasting notes from our monthly panel, as well as reports on public tasting events, wherever we attend them, and notices of recurring wine events in Central California. There is also a Food & Wine section with a few wine-friendly recipes. In Aftertaste, see if you agree with our opinions and editorials in Wrath, find our Reading List and pages of Links in Bacchanalia, to discover additional sources of wine information. Contact and sponsor information, short bios of the PfW tasting panel and the stories of PfW's formation and the web site genesis. Return to the starting point.

Tasting Tips and Etiquette

Those of us who only drink wine at home set our own rules. However, different standards apply when tasting wine in one of its many public forums. A few considerations can increase enjoyment and spare embarrassment.

image of couple standing drinking wine. Proper social behavior needs some special consideration at wine events and to display otherwise risks advertising oneself as a self-centered amateur.

For many folks, the most pleasurable element of wine is its smell. Enjoying these aspects depends upon aromatic ambience. Two catgories of people can ruin this: Perfume Soakers and Cigar(±ette) Smokers. Please do shower and put on clean (unsmoked) clothing when attending wine events, but save the aftershave, perfume, hairspray, deodorant bomb and other personal fragrances for your private encounters (men, too; they're often the worst offenders!). And smoke and wine don't mix for the vast majority of people. Flagrant fragrances are unwelcome when visiting tasting rooms, attending wine dinners, charity wine events, etc.

Consider that winery representatives use time and travel resources to attend special functions. They plan to maximize exposure of their brand which means sharing their time among all the guests, not spending it all with you personally.

Make water a constant companion for the refreshment of the alcohol-parched palate as well as the sake of general decorum and personal sobriety.

Let's just admit that wine service in American restaurants is generally lousy. The common problems: poorly informed, trained, or just plain indifferent servers; boring, common wine selections; hard-to-decipher, poorly organized or poorly presented wine lists; and predatory pricing and corkage policies. Yes, there are notable exceptions, especially among independently-owned-and-operated establishments.

Regardless of how disrespectful the restaurant may be toward wine and wine customers, there are behaviors wine drinkers can follow to change this atmosphere and improve their own dining experience.

wine waitress image.1 - Pre-Select. Visit the establishment to make your reservations and ask to see the wine list as well as the menu. Or go online to the restaurant's web site where often this information is available.

2 -Show Respect. Ask about the corkage policy before showing up with a bottle. Many establishments will not charge for serving one bottle that you bring if you also purchase one from the list.

Do I really need to remind you not to bring either a wine that is already on the wine list or a cheap bottle? Do you really want to begin the evening by insulting the folks handling your food?

Charities often solicit wineries to donate refreshments for cocktail parties otherwise advertised as fund raising events. Beyond pure altruism and although the wineries can "write off" the full retail value of donated wine, the main benefit for a winery is a venue for exposure to potential new customers.

Participants that either insist on "fill 'er up" or keep returning for refills after quickly settling on their particular favorite are boorishly defeating the wineries' main reason for participation and jeopardizing the charity's chance for a repeat performance next year.

Crowding is a frequent problem at large events. Show consideration by stepping up to get a sample and then stepping away to enjoy it. This will be appreciated by the participants who all paid the same admission price and by the vendors who hope to maximize their product exposure. If the vendor is showing more than one wine, either step to the side between pours or return later.

Hogging the table while casually pondering one's sample evaluation is extremely rude and self-centered. Also, most wine makers appreciate an encouraging comment, but trying to conduct an interview, offering your personal views on extended maceration, or itemizing your cellar is self-absorbed and unwelcomed. Follow that Golden Rule and allow others to festival ticket image.

Want a couple of simple ways to impress the winery representatives, thank them personally, and make them feel their participation is worthwhile?

1 - Remembrance. Pull out your phone and take a picture of the label of the wine(s) you like.

1 - Fan Club. Before the event, write a couple of wine questions on an index card along with your eMail address to leave with them for later response.

Nearly all States in the USA and most Canadian Provinces bordering it now boast their version of "Wine Country". Wine touring is a huge industry. Although free samples are traditional for potential buyers, the past three decades of tourists seeking cheap entertainment in beautiful locations over-taxed the system. Most wineries now charge a "tasting fee". For some, it is strictly as advertised, but there are variations of what might be included. Some wineries will allow you to keep the souvenir glass from which you taste, others will "credit" the fee with a minimum purchase.

I can't tell you how often someone has expressed some variation of "how come this wine tastes lousy now, but it was great at the winery?" A few possible reasons are likely.

It is common to taste several different wines at one stop, get half-sloshed, and elect to purchase a wine that may have been "best of the brand" but ultimately turned out not to be "best of the type". Also, context affects enjoyment more than some folks realize; romantic surroundings and fun company, the wine maker's personal guidance and mesmerizing conversation, or simply sipping the wine by itself without food accompaniment can add elements that may be substantially missing from the experience when drinking the same wine alongside meatloaf at the end of a trying workday. And a possibility not to be overlooked could be that the wine was "slow-cooked" in the car for a period of hours or days on the journey home (see suggestion #7 below).

My suggestions when visiting wine country, no matter where:

1 - Pre-Select. Concentrate on tasting only the same one or two varietals (one white, one red works well) from each producer. Each region has a handful of wine types that are particularly successful.

2 - Set Limits. Four or five tasting rooms per day is reasonable (unless you ignore Suggestion 1 and sample the entire bill of fare at each stop).

3 - Always Spit. Bring your own plastic spit cup (not transparent, please!). The tasting room personnel will respect you (maybe even fear you). Stay alert; wait until dinner to kick back and swallow.

4 - Always Take Notes. To keep it quick and easy, make up your own "wine shorthand" using stars, arrows, number or letter scores, whatever makes sense to you. Many wineries will have a to-go list of their wines you can write on. For those that don't, print your own default forms in advance.

5 - Buy Some for Later. (Only tasty ones, of course!) If you can arrange to taste worthy candidates with food at the end of the day, it can help decide if investing in multiple bottles is wise.

6 - Purchase Sober. Take time to reflect on all your notes and experiences, avoid the heat of the moment.

7 - Baby your Bottles. Bring an ice chest and a couple of old sleeping bags or comforters in the trunk to wrap over, under and around these perishables. The precious bottles may be shaded from sunlight in the trunk, but pavement reflects a tremendous amount of heat underneath; not enough to ignite the gas tank, but more than enough to cook the cargo. If flying, arrange to have the winery ship your bottles home during a temperate season (be patient).

by Jim LaMar

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Created August 1, 2014; updated June 30, 2015
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