Tuesday, January 25, 2011

8 Tips on Wine Tasting in Washington Wine Country

Wine Tasting Etiquette

Planning a wine tasting trip to Washington State? You'll find a winery just about anyplace you visit in Washington these days; from Bainbridge Island, up to Lake Chelan, down to Richland and along the Columbia River Gorge.


These eight wine tasting tips will enhance your next visit to the wineries of Washington Wine Country.

Tip 1. It's Tasting not Drinking
Going wine tasting is about tasting wine, not drinking. Some people you bump into at the wineries are going for volume - bad form and potentially dangerous. See Tip 4 below.

Tip 2. The Tasting Fee
Many wineries do have a tasting room fee of about $5. Be prepared to pay to taste - be thankful if the winery you visit has no tasting fee (some wineries may subtract the tasting fee from your purchase - bonus).

Tip 3. Spitting is Okay at a Winery
If you don't like the wine in your glass, you are not obligated to drink it. There should be a "dump bucket" on the counter where you can dump the wine you don't want to drink (make sure it is the dump bucket and NOT the water pitcher). If you are talented, and careful, you can also spit the wine into the bucket. Have some Wine Away with you just in case you miss.

Tip 4. The Tasting Process (and some sub-tips)
Once the wine is poured in your glass, there is a process to the tasting:

a) Check Color and Clarity
Look at the color of the wine. Is it clear, dark, cloudy, golden, red, or brownish? There are ranges of color per varietal.

b) Release the Aroma
Swirl the wine in the glass to release aromas in the wine, and then smell the wine. What do you smell? Swirl and smell again. Don't rush this part of the process - I often wander around the tasting room with my wine, swirling, smelling and generally taking time to appreciate how it smells.

c) Taste the Wine
Don't drink your wine in one swallow. Leave some wine in your glass for another taste - sips please.

There are essentially three flavor profiles you are analyzing in wine: beginning (attack), middle (mid-palette), and end (the finish). A well-balanced wine will be complimentary all the way through attack, mid-palette and the finish. The more wine you taste, the better your palate will become at describing what you taste.

Tip 5. Take Notes
Take some written notes about the wines you taste. No matter how good you think your memory is, after several tastes and several wineries, it won't be reliable. Your notes will become valuable reminders of the wines you enjoyed, so you can buy more later.

Tip 6. Buy a Bottle
Must you buy a bottle? Even if you don't like any of the wines? Yes, please. Except, you are not obligated to buy wine if you paid for the tasting. It is a courtesy to say, "thank you" for the wine and the conversation by purchasing a bottle.

Tip 7. Tipping
Should you tip? Most wineries don't expect tips. Most people don't tip the hostess/host at the tasting room (I should know). But think on this. Coffee baristas get tipped all the time for $5 cups of joe. Should you feel obligated to tip after buying $30, $100 or even $1,500 of wine? Even after all the great conversation and information I shared? Okay, okay, you don't have to tip - unless you want to.

Tip 8. Have Fun
You should find several bottles of wine you like at many of the wineries you visit. I know I always do. If you find yourself obsessing about Washington wine, holding blind tastings with friends and rambling on and on about your latest discovery, then you have become Wild 4 Washington Wine. Have you considered contributing to a wine blog? Fire off an email or tweet me if you do.

Additional notes (yes, this makes for more than 8 tips)

* Don't wear perfume or cologne to the tasting room. The point of going wine tasting is to taste and smell the wine in the glass, not your perfume.

** It is common practice among the experienced tasters to hold the glass by the stem (no fingerprints on the glass, no hand warming the wine in the glass, and it is easier to swirl the wine by holding the stem).

*** Experienced tasters also bring a bottle of water with them - stay hydrated.

**** Don't drink and drive. If you lack a designated driver, then take breaks between wineries to re-hydrate and eat some food. We want everyone to have a safe and positive wine experience.

Cheers!