A Brief Guide to Wine Tasting Etiquette

We here at Ultra Wine Racks believe that you are a cool, suave, knowledgeable individual who can walk into any tasting room and flawlessly follow the unwritten rules of wine tasting etiquette. But just in case you don’t see yourself that way, and have been looking to brush up on your tasting room etiquette, we’ve made a list of wine tasting do’s and don’ts. Check it out…

1. Make a reservation.

Some tasting rooms at wineries are open seven days a week, but some (especially the small ones) are only open on weekends, or by appointment. And if you’re thinking of going to a tasting room with a group of people, it’s always a good idea to call ahead and make sure that the place will be open and ready for you. If you want to take a tour of the winery, you’ll probably need to reserve a spot. That’s just good wine tasting etiquette.

2. Look nice…but don’t smell too nice.

The experts say that your wine tasting outfit should be both comfortable and “casually elegant.” In other words, don’t go to a wine tasting looking like you just ran through a muddy obstacle course. Make sure your clothes are clean, and that you’re generally well put-together. We’re not saying that you’ll bump into the Queen of England while you’re out tasting wine, but if you do, you shouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen with her in the outfit you’re wearing. But skip the aftershave and the fragrance, okay? You might interfere with other people’s tasting experience, as well as your own. Aroma plays a key role in wine tasting. Nobody wants to smell Creed Aventus when they’re trying to sample a nice merlot.

3. Keep it down to a dull roar.

This is a tasting room, not a bar. You could easily get a little bit buzzed. People who get buzzed in large rooms with lots of people and a bar serving alcoholic beverages tend to get loud and crazy. But you might spoil the tasting experience for other tasting room patrons. Keep your voice level, your movements calm and measured, and your conversation discreet. That’s excellent wine tasting etiquette.

4. Get out of your comfort zone.

This is a wine tasting, isn’t it? So taste. Try something new. Drop your preconceived notions about certain types of wine and give them a second chance. If you tried cabernet sauvignon five years ago and didn’t think much of it, that’s no reason to avoid it now. Ask for a glass and sample it with an open mind. And don’t shy away from sampling the winery’s higher-end offerings. They might cost a bit more, but they just might be the best wines you’ve ever tried in your life. You never know.

5. Hold glasses by the stem.

Holding a glass by the bowl not only leaves dirty, smudgy fingerprints all over it, but can also throw off the wine’s temperature. Tasting rooms take great care to serves wines at precisely the right temperature so you can get the full effect of the aromas and flavors. Wrap your fingers lightly around the stem (like those folks in the picture at the top of this post) and start sipping. But before you take a drink…

6. Look, sniff, swirl.

Examine the color and clarity of the wine. Hold the glass up to the light and nod like you know what you’re doing. Take a nice big whiff before you imbibe. Your senses of smell and taste augment each other, and if you’ve got a noseful of wine before you take your first sip, that first sip will be all the more flavorful. After you’ve taken a drink, swirl the wine around in your mouth for a minute before you gulp it down. Wines take on different flavors and characteristics depending on what parts of your tongue and palate they touch. Don’t chug the stuff. Savor it.

7. Don’t overindulge!

Wine is alcoholic, the last time we checked. It’s pretty easy to get blasted when you’re wine tasting, and that would be kind of embarrassing. (This is the reason that professional judges at wine tasting events spit the wine out when they’re done tasting it. They’ve got a lot to get through.) Make sure you don’t go wine tasting on an empty stomach. Don’t be afraid to spit the wine after you’re done tasting it, either, as long as there’s an appropriate receptacle handy. And be sure to cleanse your palate in between wines. A glass of water works wonders.

8. Don’t be a know-it-all.

Nobody likes them, and you might not know as much as you think. While tasting room employees are often entry-level and might not know much about wine or the wine industry, there’s a distinct possibility that someone else in the tasting room knows more than you do and is secretly (or not-so-secretly) laughing at you. By all means be opinionated—the whole point of wine tasting is to decide what’s good and what isn’t, what you like and what you don’t. But don’t try to show off how much you know about wine in general. That’s bad wine tasting etiquette. In fact, you should…

9. Ask questions and take notes.

Won’t you hate yourself if you find a wine you love more than anything but can’t remember the name of it the morning after? Don’t you wish you’d asked where it was grown and what vintage it was so you could find a case of it? Yeah, a simple notebook and a willingness to ask questions would have solved that problem.

10. Find out about incentives.

Some wineries will waive (or reduce) tasting fees if you make a purchase at the end. It’s not gauche or outré to inquire about these incentives, either at the beginning or the end of the tasting session. If it turns out that the winery does discount or waive the fee if you purchase a bottle (or a case) at the end of a tasting session, it may be more economical for you to do so! And you’ll get a bottle of wine out of the deal, too!

Some wineries also have a “wine club” that’ll send you regular wine shipments if you sign up and pay regular fees. Most of the time, it’s not just wine you’ll get out of this deal, but also perks, discounts, deals, and fringe benefits galore. While you’re at the winery, ask about becoming a member, joining the club, or getting on the mailing list. And ask about the quantities the winery ships, how often they get shipped, and whether there are any other deals or discounts included with the membership price.

And there you have it! A compact primer on wine tasting etiquette, culled from the dark heart of the Internet. We hope these tips will prove useful to you on your next visit to a tasting room. Just remember: relax, have fun, and don’t be afraid to try something new. And oh yeah…don’t wear a white shirt.

For these and other useful articles about wine, stay tuned to our blog. Check out last Friday’s post while you’re at it.

Further reading:

14 Rules for Visiting a Tasting Room

Wine Tasting Etiquette: the Do’s and Don’ts

Etiquette: Wine Tasting Do’s and Don’ts


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