Wine Tasting 101: Tips to Becoming Your Own Sommelier

Autumn is the ripe time of year to visit wineries because they’re bursting with flavor.

Throughout this season, workers are harvesting grapes and many aspects of the wine-making process are on full display and in motion.

Here are some great tips to enhance your tasting experience:

  • Plan to start tasting early in the day (around 11 AM) when your palate is freshest. Many wine professionals do their best tasting mid-morning, after breakfast.
  • Avoid wearing perfume, drinking coffee or soft drinks, or chewing gum before tasting, as they will distort how you perceive a wine’s aromas and flavors.
  • As a courtesy to the wineries you’re planning on visiting, refrain from wearing lipstick or lip-balm, which can be difficult to remove from wine glasses.
  • Wear dark-colored or patterned clothing in case you dribble red wine on yourself or spit errantly (for more on wine spitting, see tip number seven).
  • Bring a pen and notepad to record your impressions. Even if you choose to spit your wine out, after visiting three or four wineries, you may have difficulty remembering specific details about all the wines you’ve tasted.
  • Ask a lot of questions and don’t be afraid to tactfully express your preferences. Winery tasting room employees are trained both to be knowledgeable about the wines they’re serving and convey that information to a wide range of customers.
  • After swirling wine around in your glass to aerate it and release aromatics, sniff it, gently slosh it in your mouth to taste it, then spit it into the bucket provided by the tasting room server. (If you need to practice, for the sake of your shirt, start with a white wine.) By spitting out the wine and not taking in all the alcohol, your senses will remain more alert.
  • Don’t hesitate to study the bottle containing the wine you’re tasting to learn more about the wine – which kinds of grapes were used in the blend, where precisely the grapes were harvested, how the wine-maker fermented and aged the wines, how many cases were made, alcohol content, etc. Every wine has a story.
  • Ask your tasting room server if there are any special wines not on the tasting menu that you can try. Most wineries produce more wines than they showcase on a tasting menu and rotate the bottles based on the season and inventory levels, so there is usually something special hidden under the counter if you ask.
  • Many wineries sell special, limited production wines exclusively at their winery (or through their wine club mailing list), so be sure to inquire about them, especially because they’re sometimes the most interesting selections.
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