10 Tasting Room Tips for the Aspiring Wine Lover
10 Tasting Room Tips for the Aspiring Wine Lover
No matter if you are new to wine or wine tasting, or if you visit tasting rooms often, it’s useful to remind ourselves of good etiquette and read up on ways to improve your experience. Whether you are a first time visitor to a winery, or if you know enough about wine to impress your friends, this list of tips is for you!
1. Avoid wearing heavy cologne/perfume/body spray.
This is without a doubt the number one tip. When you are tasting wines, you need the ability to smell what is in your glass without any interference. A key factor in tasting a wine (as it is in tasting food) is smelling it. Many wines have floral, herbal, spicy characteristics that can be masked when a stronger scent is present, so it’s important that the wine is the only thing you can smell! If you must wear a cologne, apply it at least 2-3 hours before you plan to head to the tasting room. P.S.: Do wear deodorant, but make it unscented if possible.
2. Wine with friends!
Wine is always more fun with friends! Groups of 2-4 people work really well for a number of reasons:
A. 2-4 people do not overwhelm a tasting room associate like a larger group might. Imagine if a bus load of people all arrive at the same time and the craziness that would ensue.
B. A group of 2-4 is bound to have different opinions on what they thought of the wines. One person might hate something that you loved, but that is totally OK! Learn to discuss the wines and get different perspectives at the end of the day.
3. Take a photo of your favorites!
Sometimes you might not be in a traditional tasting room, but at an event where there are nearly hundreds of wines being presented. Maybe there is not an opportunity to purchase the wine at the tasting, but there will be at a later time. This is the perfect opportunity to whip out the camera or cell phone and snap a picture of what you loved so you can make it a part of your cellar later on!
4. Take notes.
Remember when we used something called a pen and paper? Jot down your favorite wines if you don’t have a camera. Write down what you liked about a wine or what it brings to mind. If the tasting room associate says something important (like a food pairing or their recipe for meatballs) get that on paper, too! The most important thing is to document your experience, because most of us have been on tastings and have forgotten parts of them.
5. Use the dump bucket.
But not like that. Part of why we sometimes can’t remember what we tasted is because we have not used the dump bucket to its full potential. The plastic or metal container sitting on the bar beside the wines is there for a reason. So you can taste and spit and keep a sound mind. By all means, taste as many wines as you can, but don’t feel obligated to drink the entire pour. Keep your taste buds refreshed so you can still distinguish wines even if you are at your 3rd or 4th stop. Additionally, a winery is really the only place where spitting in public is NOT frowned upon, so sometimes I have a smaller cup I spit into and then pour it into the main dump bucket, so I am not directly spitting into the bucket. Trust me, I have seen this technique go awry and the liquid ricochet into the spitter’s face when they spat into a mostly full bucket. And they were wearing a white shirt. Not pretty.
6. Get your taste, then step aside for the next person in line.
Be aware of others around you who might be thirsty. It’s really rude to monopolize a tasting room associate when there are other people behind you waiting to taste the long awaited release of Matchbook Arsonist Chardonnay. You can always get back in line for another taste, but don’t just stand there like an oaf and prevent someone from getting one! (I am only 5’1″ tall and have been corkblocked many times!)
7. Ask questions.
Tasting room employees are not there to intimidate you. They are there to share information with you and to hopefully sell you tons of wine and maybe convince you to join their wine club. Ask questions about the wine. Ask about wine in general. Ask about the wine club. Ask about the perks of the club. Joining a wine club might be a great deal of savings to you if you like the winery and the wines they make. Sometimes wineries through big parties during releases of a particular varietal they make and the parties are for wine club members only. PS: Do ask questions, but adhere to rule #6 and do step aside as to no monopolize the tasting room associate so others can taste/ask questions, too.
8. Plan your day ahead of time.
Plan to visit 2-3 wineries maximum and spend quality time at each. Most tasting rooms have put time and effort into making their property somewhere you might like to be for while (maybe even all day). Visit the winery website (almost all of them have some sort of web and social media presence) before your visit, and learn about what makes the winery you choose unique. Some wineries have food and wine pairings/tastings. Some have live music or get food trucks to come by to provide food for purchase. If you like food and music (like I do) those are the most attractive! If you do find a winery with musical entertainment, there will also be comedic entertainment by someone who has had a little too much to drink and has decided to bust out some awesome dance moves!
9. Pack snacks and water!
So if the places at which you are tasting do not offer food, call them and see if you can bring food, more appropriately snacks to the tasting room or winery grounds. I am not talking about getting a Domino’s pizza and having it delivered to the winery, or rolling up a Weber BBQ next to the bar, but I do suggest calling the winery ahead of time and asking them if it is OK if you bring cheese, crackers, dried fruit, etc. with you. Sometimes there might be food sold on the premises, and in that case outside food might be frowned upon. In all cases it is best to call the particular winery ahead of time and ask. If you are bringing something to snack on, keep it classy and bring in a nice picnic basket or small cooler. Water is a no-brainer when it comes to drinking and helps prevent a hangover if you do accidentally overindulge.
10. Buy at least one bottle of wine from each place you visit.
You don’t have to always follow this rule, but it’s just good practice. When you buy a bottle of wine after a tasting, almost always the tasting room will refund your tasting fee. It’s a very strategic move especially in places that charge more than $10 for a tasting. At the very least you get to take home a memento from where you have been that day.
And it’s always nice to have a souvenir from a great trip you had. When you open the wine, you can relive your tasting room visit all over again. Invite your friends over (if you have not gravely embarrassed them from the winery visit and they are still speaking to you) and have a great dinner built around the wine. There are recipes all over the internet geared to almost any common varietal you can buy.
Hopefully my tips have prepared you for your next visit to wine country! Cheers!
Legends of Wine Returns September 17th, 2015
It’s been Farm-to-Fork insanity here at cavegrrl.com headquarters! Andy and I are scheduled to attend so many events and dinners in celebration of this very special time of year in Sacramento. One of my favorite upcoming events is Farm-to-Fork’s Legends of Wine. I’m am thrilled that my mom will be coming out to visit during that week and will be going to Legends of Wine with us.
Legends of Wine provides the unique opportunity to sample and discover more about some of the region’s most celebrated varietals, as selected by two of Sacramento’s internationally recognized culinary powerhouses—Darrell Corti and David Berkley. Set against the backdrop of California’s majestic State Capitol, guests will sip a wide array of award-winning wines paired and presented with artisan cheeses and local delights.
If you’ve never attended Legends of Wine, here’s a brief look at last year’s event—some of my favorite wineries, along with some pictures of the impressive fruit and cheese arrangements we enjoyed.
First up is Bokisch Vineyards! They caught my attention at the first Legends of Wine in 2013 with their Tempranillo (one of my favorite varietals), and last year they served an Albariño.
I was very impressed with Capay Valley Vineyard’s line up—their sparkling viognier was my favorite. 🙂
Another notable winery was Casey Flat Ranch—their Estate Red Wine is excellent.
Aaand… always a favorite of mine… Matchbook. Their entire flock of wines are both affordable and delicious. Maybe this year they will bring their Arsonist Chardonnay?
Here’s one of Andy’s picks from last year: Michael David’s Sauvignon Blanc. Looking forward to trying more from them this year, and perhaps they will bring their Inkblot Tannat! 🙂
Along with the wines, there were fabulous displays of fruits and cheeses for the pairing:
This year’s Legends of Wine is September 17th from 6:00-8:30 p.m. on the west steps of the State Capitol. Tickets are $59 each. To purchase tickets, head over to the Farm-to-Fork website here. See you there!
To keep up with all the delicious Farm-to-Fork events, click here, “like” Farm to Fork on Facebook here, or follow them on Twitter here.
My “Best of the Best” California State Fair Wine Winners
Now that the California State Fair is in full swing (July 10th-26th), and Save Mart Supermarket’s Wine Country is open for tasting, I wanted to give you a heads up on my favorite wines this year from the Winners of the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition.
Andy and I attended a media event a few weeks ago at which the 2015 Best of Show winners were announced, and here’s what we liked best:
2012 Handley Pinot Noir (Mendocino County)
Andy and I discovered Handley Cellars at the Pinot on the River event last year in Healdsburg, and we have been buying their Pinot Noir ever since. Not a shock to see them win an award. They took silver for the pinot noir pictured above and their 2013 Anderson Valley Gewürtztraminer pictured below. Congrats to a well-deserving winery!
The Rosé of Barbera pictured above from Gold Hill Vineyard took Best of Show Pink DOUBLE Gold 98. If you remember a few years ago, I told you it was hip to drink rosé, and I chose some of my favorites at Total Wine. You can read those picks here. If I were to rewrite my list of summer sippers this year, the 2014 Gold Hill Barbera Rosato would be one to buy!
Speaking of rosés, here’s one from Zucca Mountain Vineyards, the 2014 Belle Nipoti a rosé blend. This wine earned a Silver for Best of Class of Region.
Upon the suggestion of California State Fair wine judge and co-host of the Bottle Talk with Rick and Paul radio show and podcast Rick Kushman, I visited the table where Robert Hall wines were featured. I found this Orange Muscat I liked very much, even though I am not typically a fan of dessert wines. It won a Gold honor for Best of California, Best of Region ‐ White.
I also found this sparkling wine made by Barsetti quite delightful. It was actually the first wine I tasted when we arrived at the event. What a way to kick things off. This wine scored a Gold Best of Class of Region.
This Rosato di Primitivo was Amador’s Uphill Vineyards first attempt at making a blush wine. Nice job there, because it made my list of wine picks and more importantly, took a Double Gold honor from the wine judges.
Last but not least, we have a Chardonnay produced by one of my favorite local wineries, Matchbook Wine Company. You might remember my recent tour of their facilities. Matchbook’s The Arsonist Chardonnay won a Silver, and even though I knew exactly how the wine tasted, of course I had a little taste anyway. 😉
There’s Andy and Rick deep in discussion, no doubt. 😉 Actually, Andy met Rick through running before he met me. And I met Rick through the whole Sacramento food and wine scene before I met Andy. So now it’s always fun to see him at events and get each others’ opinions on what we liked (and didn’t like) and why. Good times! 🙂
About the State Fair Wine Competition
The first State Fair Wine Competition was held in 1855. The competition is the oldest and one of the most prestigious wine events in the country. Top wines including Best of Region and Best of California winners will be featured at the State Fair in the Save Mart Supermarkets Wine Garden for visitors to enjoy July 10-26.
A complete listing of award-winning wines can be found at castatefair.org. Hope to see you at the fair (most likely in the Save Mart Supermarket Wine Country)! 😉
You can find the California State Fair on Facebook here and follow them on Twitter here.
Touring and Tasting with Matchbook Wine Company
As a wine writer, I get invited to some of the most interesting events.
This time, it was a media/blogger tour and taste at Matchbook Wine Company in Dunnigan Hills. I was already a major fan of the Matchbook Wine label because of its quality vs. price ratio, so I was delighted to accept the invitation. Plus, I am an ex-employee of Toasted Head (special events sous chef and tasting room associate), so any excuse to head back to those Dunnigan Hills and I am in! 🙂
I actually managed to be somewhat outgoing (shocker) and met a few of the other writers, and after you read my blathering and reflections on my experience at the oasis just a few miles from the I-5 Zamora exit, you might want to read from their point of view here: Erin at Adventures in Nor Cal and Susan at Finding Our Way Now.
But first, a recap of my experience. It was a Friday night, and quite frankly one of the best happy hours (or two) I have ever spent. Just think of it: The moment Andy and I arrived at the new, beautiful tasting room, we were welcomed with a glass of 2013 Arsonist Chardonnay and introduced to some of the other writers (Lynn of Sacatomato was also there), tasting room associates, and the owners of Matchbook, John and Lane Giguiere.
I have followed the Giguieres for a while now, and have enjoyed their wines on several occasions, so it was nice to officially meet them and spend a bit of time with them instead of exchanging a few sentences here and there when I have met them at fundraisers/various wine tastings.
It was also great to finally see the tasting room (which has been open since October of last year). It’s an oblong shaped space with the tasting bar at one end and a large dining/board meeting table at the other. There is an impressively large chandelier that hangs above an island of items for sale. Out the back doors leads to a patio with a drop-dead stunning view of the vineyard. Nice digs.
One of the most memorable and fun parts of the evening was speeding up and down the hilly vineyards in a golf cart with the winery’s owner John Giguiere at the helm. It was and his wife Lane who lead the tour, which included a tasting in the vineyard (the 2014 Matchbook Rosé of Tempranillo) and a look at some of the farming techniques being used on the grapevines, followed by a barrel tasting of several wines in the Matchbook/Arsonist portfolio.
Inside the barrel room, we tried 2 different wines that are used to make Matchbook’s “The Arsonist” Chardonnay. The first wine was big and buttery and would make even Rombauer and Falcor Chardonnay lovers fall to their knees. The second was a more fruit forward Chardonnay aged in neutral barrels. Together they make a stunning food-friendly wine that would best compliment a cheese plate, a chicken dish, or anything with an Alfredo sauce.
After the barrel tasting, we returned to the tasting room (for more wine tasting, of course!) and enjoyed appetizers provided by Kitchen428 Restaurant and Mojo’s Lounge. We tasted the 2012 Arsonist Red Blend and the Matchbook 2011 Tinto Rey (a blend of Syrah and Tempranillo).
The two aforementioned wine along with most wines in the Matchbook Wine portfolio are so very conducive to enjoying with food—I am pretty sure that’s why I like them so much.
On a side note, you might remember my story on the Matchbook wine dinner held at Piatti late last year. You can find that here. If not, you can find Matchbook on Facebook here and follow them on Twitter here.
Thanks so much to Matchbook Wine Company for the invitation to explore their wines and their beautiful property. Both Andy and I feel truly blessed to have met with the group. Heaven on Earth, indeed.
There are five wines in the Matchbook portfolio including their Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Tinto Rey, Syrah, and Rosé of Tempranillo. You can find most of them in your local supermarket, but I’m going to encourage you to visit the winery and tasting room and figure out which one is your favorite there. Spend an afternoon on the patio with the beautiful view of the vineyards, and please tell John and Lane I said “Hello!!”.