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"When I read about the evils of drinking wine, I gave up reading." 

Rob Hutchison 


Tasting and Touring

Winery Insight Featured Article - September 2003 by Timothy O. Rice


One of the great pleasures of enjoying wine is the opportunity to visit wineries and taste wine.  It offers the thrill of discovery when you find that special bottle.  You usually do it in the company of friends, or meet new companions on your journey.  Everyone you meet seems to be in a good mood (after all, the drinkers are essentially on holiday, and the people pouring are happy to have you come).


Yet we often find that people are uncertain how they should go about a day of winery touring, and have questions to ask.  Somehow they think we should know, so this month we thought we would cover some tips on how we do it.


To begin with, touring wineries falls into two broad categories: the precise, detailed approach and the devil-may-care, hop in the car and drive method.  The first is best applied to planned vacations.  The second is best for spur-of-the-moment decisions, like what to do on a Sunday afternoon.


Obviously, you should spend some time thinking through a visit to a major wine region.  If you are going to the Finger Lakes (75 wineries) for a long weekend or out to Napa (300 or so wineries) for a few days, you cannot possibly hit them all. This is when a bit of research and pre-planning comes in.  You need to decide in advance which wineries you absolutely have to go to, plot the best route amongst them, and then allow a little time for detours to wineries that you pass or that someone recommends to you in the course of the day.


For sudden trips, a few things are essential: general directions and information, a good map, and a cell phone.  Why a cell phone?  Because a great deal of lost time can be saved by calling ahead for directions or checking to see if the winery will be open when you get there.  Keep the map and directions handy or in the car.  But the fun of this sort of trip, for us anyway, tends to be in the spirit of adventure, charging off into the scenery, determined to find something new.  Don’t overdo the planning and preparation.


How many wineries should you visit in a day?  That depends on you.  We are not “spitters”; we drink the wine that is offered and only rarely use a spit bucket.  This means our sense of taste will fade as the day goes on, and that we need to be careful about driving.  If we are staying locally to the wineries, we might do as many as five.  If we face a long drive at the end of the day, we generally restrict ourselves to three.


Should you eat between tastings?  Yes.  Always plan on eating somewhere along the way, and on having something non-alcoholic to drink.  Wine, like other alcohols, tends to dehydrate you, so a water bottle in the car is an excellent idea.  We tend to plan for a picnic after the second winery visit on day-trips, or to eat a meal at a restaurant where they don’t serve alcohol after the last one, before the drive home.  That break is also useful for clearing the taste senses and allowing you to discuss what you’ve done so far.  Many wineries have picnic tables available, or know where you can find them.


As you taste the wine, talk to the people behind the bar.  Ask them how wines taste, which ones they like, what foods it pairs well with.  You may not agree with their opinions, but can only gain by hearing them.  If they know you are interested, they may tell you things you’ll never learn otherwise.


One important point is to find out what order to taste the wines in.  You want to start with dry wines first (whites, then reds), followed by sweeter wines (whites, then reds).  Dessert wines last, and often sparkling wines first of all.  If you drink the sweeter wines first, your taste buds will be shot for the nuances of the lighter, drier wines.


Do use wine crackers or other palate-cleansing foods between wines or groups of wines.  Keep a few in your jacket pocket if you have to, but most wineries will have something available for you.


Be reasonable.  If you show up at a winery and a busload of people have just arrived, the staff will not have the time to spend chatting with you.  If you want to have long conversations, try to arrive during off hours.  One of the best times we ever had at a winery came about because we showed up on a Friday afternoon; we ended up spending an hour talking with the owners and staff, because we were the only customers in the place.


Don’t feel conspicuous.  It is perfectly okay to swirl the wine, stick your nose in to the glass to sniff, hold a glass up to the light or against a background to see the color, roll it around in your mouth to absorb all the flavor.  You might want to be sure you know why you are doing this, but all are part of the enjoyment and fun of tasting wine – and they can all tell you something about the wine you are drinking.


If the winery offers a tour, you should probably go on it.  Some are better than others, and after a while you may think you’ve seen enough of them.  But we still find people telling us things we didn’t know as they show us their operations, and these are also great opportunities to ask questions.  Proud proprietors love to talk and tell you about how they make wine.


 Last modified: August 07, 2007