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Wine tastings used to just be for Napa Valley travelers who knew the difference between a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cabernet Franc, but a recent shift has made wine tastings more accessible, and more popular, than ever. With a focus on wine regions outside of the well known, go-to spots and a younger generation who seems to appreciate wine more than ever, wine tastings are now a common thing. It’s not unusual for a group of friends to do a wine tasting on a weekend, or a bachelorette to have a wine tasting party instead of a night at the club.

This means that wine tasting know-how and etiquette is now more important than ever. Follow the tips below if you find yourself in a wine tasting situation you don’t know how to handle.

The situation: You and your friends found an awesome deal on a wine tasting package on Groupon. Everyone is excited to go day drinking at a local winery, but you know nothing about wine. What do you do?

The solution: Do some research about wines that will most likely be served at the wine tasting. You can do this by looking up what kind of grapes grow in different regions (they’re not all the same) and what kind of wines are produced from these grapes. Read about the characteristics of the wines so that you have an idea of what you’ll like, and what you’ll end up pouring out. At minimum, learn the basic differences between a white wine and a red wine, and read up a little on aspects such as dryness and body. This will help to prepare your palette, manage your expectations, and let you know what wines to skip during a tasting. 

Most wineries will list the wines available on their tasting menu, so after learning a little bit about the taste and characteristics of wine, you can head to the winery’s website to see what you’ll be drinking. Knowing about the wines will not only make you seem like a smarty pants to your friends, it’ll also probably make the overall experience more enjoyable. Feel free to take notes on the tasting sheet about wines that you like so that if you’re ever in a position where you need to order wine while you’re out, or bring a bottle to a party, you’ll have an idea what you like. 

The situation: You’re at a wine tasting at a large estate vineyard and everyone else looks like they know what they’re doing, but this is your first time at a winery and you have no idea how to act.

The solution: Mimic those around you. Chances are, other people there DO know what they are doing, and you can learn a thing or two from them. This isn’t to say that you need to become an expert in the swirl, sniff and sip maneuver, but you can at least pick up on some behavioral cues. There will also most likely be a wine expert available to guide you through the tasting and provide you with a sheet that lists types of wines served and characteristics of each wine. Take your time working your way through the tasting sheet and ask questions if you have them – the wine expert is there to make your experience as enjoyable as possible.

At most wineries, it’s perfectly acceptable to skip some wines on the tasting list if you have a feeling you won’t like them. It’s also fine to pour out a wine if you take a sip and decide that it’s not for you. At many wineries, there will also be a “spit bucket” for you to spit out a wine sample after you have tasted it, but this is generally left for those who are doing multiple tastings in a day and don’t want to get drunk, or those that are particularly picky about their wines. If you are going to spit, be sure to spit with enough force that you won’t have wine dribbling down your chin, but not enough force that the wine hits the bucket and splashes back out at you and your nearby companions. For the casual wine tasting attendee, swallowing your sip is advisable so that you don’t have to worry about finding the spittoon, spitting correctly, and being watched while doing so.

The situation: You’ve done a couple tastings in one day on a local wine trail and you’re feeling a little drunk. The rest of your group wants to do another winery tasting, but you’re not really feeling up to it.

The solution: It’s generally not a good idea (and sort of frowned upon) to get drunk at wine tastings, so try to avoid this if at all possible. If you feel yourself getting drunk, don’t taste any more wines and ask for a glass of water instead. Wine tasting rooms also generally have some sort of cracker or snack available, so grab a handful of crackers and take a break from the vino.

If the rest of your group is pressing on, you can certainly go to another winery with them and simply opt out of the tasting. Wander around the gift shop or the actual vineyard (if you’re allowed) to get away from the wine and get some fresh air. Remember to eat a good meal before a wine tasting as well so that you’ll have something in your stomach to soak up some of that alcohol along the way.

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