Wine comes with all sorts of expectations and price tags. Everyone knows someone who behaves like a connoisseur, and who makes the ordinary drinker feel ignorant. But winery tours and tastings are a major part of the tourist trail these days and everyone is welcome. So can the average enjoyer of wine pass muster there, without pretending to be a wine nerd or showing themselves up as an ignoramus?
In reality there is only one rule—show good manners towards the winery staff and other visitors. The staff are proud of their establishment and they want to show it at its best. The other people who are on the visit have their own reasons for being there, but the principle reason is to enjoy themselves, and you do not want to get in the way of that, any more than you want them to spoil your day.
Remember that your tour counts as a sale of alcohol, so do not get touchy if you are asked to show ID according to normal state practice.
The Right Approach
The guide will always run through the best way to approach a glass of wine (swirling, sniffing, savoring, etc.) but you don’t have to follow the rigmarole if you prefer not to. It is perfectly acceptable to swallow your wine, although of course it is equally acceptable to spit after tasting.
There is no disrespect in emptying your glass into the provided receptacle after taking a couple of sips. You should be given an indication of the number of wines you are going to taste, so if you are swallowing you can gauge your glasses accordingly.
The essence of wine appreciation is in the smelling. It does not help you or your fellow visitors if you bring strong extraneous smells into the winery, so you should avoid wearing fragrances and smoking before your visit.
It is easy to get carried away at a wine tasting. Drinking too much will not only irritate your hosts and the other guests, but will defeat the object of the visit, which is to appreciate the subtle differences between the wines—drunkenness and subtlety are not great bedfellows.
Never attempt to help yourself to another glass from an opened bottle. If you really must try some more, ask the guide to pour for you.
Show an Interest
There are some places where you can visit a number of wineries in a day or over a few days, like the wonderful Hermann Wine Trail in Missouri. These give you an opportunity to compare different techniques and environments for wine-making. It is a learning experience, and a very enjoyable one. The problem might be that you can get a bit jaded, as inevitably some of the information will be the same between different wineries. Stick with it and listen, and you may find that as you go on your questions get more informed.
Taste what is offered to you—it will be representative of the winery’s full range. It would be disrespectful and pointless to ask if you can have some of the ‘good stuff’. Be realistic—they are not going to open a bottle worth $500 to offer to a group of ten paying $20 each. The price of your tour will get you samples of some very good wines.
Policies for charging obviously vary a great deal between wineries. There will usually be different levels of tour, some of which may include food. It is often possible to get discount vouchers from hotels and visitor information offices.
There is no obligation to buy wines, although that is obviously part of the object from the winery’s point of view. Some might offer to deduct the cost of your tour if you buy a certain number of bottles. If you have been granted special favors, such as a late tour, or a visit to areas not regularly open to the public, then the expectation would be that you will show your gratitude by buying some wine.
Enjoy Your Visit
The point of going on a winery tour is to enjoy some good wines, while learning something more about the trade at the same time. You are there to have a pleasant day, and to allow others to do the same. There is no need to be a know-it-all, and the guides on the tours are not going to be the winery’s top experts for you to impress, so relax, appreciate, and enjoy the visit.
Katie Bevan is becoming a wine connoisseur in her middle age! She always seeks out a winery or wine tasting session when she is travelling away, and enjoys enlightening others when it comes to fine wine.