Spit or Swallow: Wine-Tasting Etiquette

Let’s be honest. No one is going to kick you out of a winery tasting room unless you get downright rowdy. Or unless you break their set of Riedel glasses. Don’t do that.

In fact, most tasting rooms are pretty congenial places where you’re sure to make new friends as you swirl, sip and spit (or swallow). If you’re new to the experience, though, you might have some questions, so I wanted to put together this handy list of do’s and don’t’s to help you have the best wine-tasting experience possible.

Tasting rooms tend to be convivial locales, so don't take yourself too seriously. Photo source: Turkovich Wines.

Tasting rooms tend to be convivial locales, so don’t take yourself too seriously. Photo source: Turkovich Wines.

Tasting Tips

As I said, tasting rooms are generally friendly places, so unless you’re a wine professional, there’s no need to try to convince anyone you’re a master sommelier. Just indulge without inebriation.

The general tasting experience follows five simple steps, all of which you can perform at your own pace (in other words, you don’t have to swirl the wine for ten minutes before tasting it!).

Don't be like Miles and Jack...whatever you do, don't call a wine "quaffable"!

Really be sure to look carefully at the color of the wine. It can tell you a lot!

Look. Don’t just knock back the wine once the bartender pours it for you. Take a moment to notice the color and clarity of the wine since it can tell you a lot about how it is going to taste and how it has been aged.

Swirl and sniff. Sure, you’ll look a little poncy in front of your friends, but remember that much of what you “taste” is actually based on your sense of smell. Certainly specific aromas and flavors come down to identification by your olfactory system rather than by your taste buds. Often, the tasting notes you identify from sniffing a wine are much clearer in the bouquet than on the palate, so your nose is your most accurate accouterment. Just try not to make this face when sniffing…

This is me. Smelling wine. Like a douche. Don't be like me.

Apparently this is the face I make when smelling wine – don’t be like me!

Taste. Yes, finally! Take a big ol’ sip of that wine and really splash it around in your mouth. In fact, don’t even think about this as drinking, but rather, as eating the wine. Chew on it, gargle it even, if you want to (though I fully license your companions to mock you for it if you do). The whole point is to release and experience all those flavor. And in a tasting room, no one is going to look at you askance for making weird noises. As long as they’re tasting-related.

Spit or swallow. If you have a big day ahead of you, consider delicately spitting your wine into the spittoons wineries have for just such a purpose. In fact, they even have a fun French name, crachoirs. However, if you’re just out for a day of excitement, you might as well swallow. It’s more fun. Get your mind out of the gutter.

If you've got a big day of tasting ahead of you, don't be afraid to pour out your wine.

If you’ve got a big day of tasting ahead of you, don’t be afraid to pour out your wine.

Pour it out. If you’re tasting through a dozen wines per winery, no one expects you to finish all those tastes. You’d barely make it past your first appointment, and hey, this isn’t spring break in Cancun. Instead, take advantage of those handy pour buckets. No one will take offense if you pour out a portion of the wine. Your palate, your liver…and your tasting buddies will thank you.

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