In the past few months I have received loads of emails from those of you who have had horrendous experiences in winery tasting rooms.
The turmoil told in these tales seems to stem from two situations, the arrogance of the tasting staff or the inexperience of the taster.
Yes, I've had the stories where tasters unknowingly poured themselves a glass of wine from the spittoon. These folks admitted they were unschooled in the virtues of tasting room 101, if that so existed, and assumed it was a serve yourself situation. When I spoke to them further, they were ashamed and embarrassed about their mistake but also complained about the inattentiveness of the winery staff who seemed to snub them for customers more proficient in wine speak.
I can't tell you how sad and angry this makes me.
I have absolutely no tolerance for wine snobs at winery tasting rooms (or anywhere really). I can't put my finger on what their function in this type of setting might be. To make the brand appear more exclusive? Sorry but, bull-crappity-crap.
I could never have anyone work for me who has a chip on their shoulder in the tasting room, shunning away those who are actively trying to educate themselves about wine.
I have tried to comfort and soothe these bruised egos (and there are lots of you) with the knowledge that wine snobs serve a very special function. It usually involves browbeating the unsuspecting wine novice with information, making wine appreciation seem unattainable. They fill your head with useless details you do not need to memorize when just discovering wine. I mean as a beginner, you do not need to know pH and Tartaric Acid statistics. That information is about as important as stamp-collecting at this point. It's NOT NECESSARY!
In all honesty most wines are drinkable at the time of release and do not require lots of discussion about their characteristics. However, there are those wines that are carefully crafted and manipulated and deserve greater appreciation for the art that went into making them.
When you are ready, find someone who has studied the science and art of winemaking or who has practiced or developed the ability to distinguish between lots of different wines and their characteristics. These people are legitimate sources of information when it comes to wine knowledge.
Let me also say, over the years, I have met oodles of tasting room staff who are accommodating and wonderful sources of information. They are passionate, helpful and thoughtful in the techniques used to convey information to those of you who feel a little less secure speaking about this very complicated beverage.
Yes, wine is a complicated subject! Let's face it, it's not rocket science but it's not an intuitive topic either.
One of the reasons wine tasting is so enjoyable has to do with its multi-sensory appeal. However, this also makes it more confusing; sensory overload in a way.
All at once you are examining the wine's color, deeply smelling its aromas as you agitate the molecules by swirling the wine in your glass, tasting the flavors. Maybe it's pushing it a little but even touch comes into play when feeling the wine in your mouth.
So I wanted to give a simple but brief overview about some Do's and Dont's in a tasting room. My hope is to help some of you with bad experiences get back in the saddle with the confidence to try again.
These are uncomplicated suggestions that may help make your next trip to a winery more enjoyable.
Do's and Don'ts In The Tasting Room
This might sound silly but as you are getting ready to receive your pour from the wait staff, DO hold your glass steady for the server. I have seen people move their glass all around the bar as the server tries desperately to make the pour only to have it splash all over the table. This annoys everyone and starts you out on the wrong foot.
When you finally get your wine, DO swirl it vigorously in the glass. This aerates the wine, helping to communicate and express what you will find in the glass. You might not be able to pick out exact fruit aromas like raspberry, cherry, peaches and honeydew; that takes time and practice. But I bet you could distinguish aromas like red or dark fruit, melon and stone fruit nuances. Test yourself and ask the people you are with what they think. It makes the experience more interesting and you will get more out of it.
DO get to know your wine by sticking your nose way down into the glass. Don't be embarrassed. The bigger your nose the better at this point.
The spittoon, DO use it. You will not offend anyone in the tasting room by spitting out wine. No one expects you to drink everything. And as far as the act of spitting goes, if you try to let the wine dribble out, you will be in trouble. Aim and fire away.
DO learn what you like and try to express it, you'll end up getting what you want more often.
If you get what you consider exceptional treatment at a winery, DO buy something. It shows you were appreciative of their time and effort.
Natural lips are better. DON'T apply thick layers of lipstick before going into the tasting room. This will surely interfere with the wine, not to mention muck up the glasses.
DON'T wear perfume or cologne, you won't be able to smell anything else.
If you go to lunch in between visiting a few wineries, DON'T have a spicy meal and skip the after meal mint. These types of foods will interfere with your palate's ability to distinguish between flavors, making some wines taste bad or flat.
The only way you will learn is to ask lots of questions. DON'T be intimidated. I would say MOST people love to talk about their wines, it's what they do best. There are no stupid questions. DON'T pretend to be versed in things you know nothing about, this will only get you into trouble.
Most importantly, DON'T drink and drive. Always try to have a designated driver.
So, has anyone ever had a bad experience at a tasting room? Or a good one they'd like to share?
Come see me at the Noble Pig Tasting Room, we'd love to show how it's done.