With the May long weekend now come and gone, many of us will be heading off to wine country in the next few months to check out our favourite wineries and their new releases.
But before you do, a few tips that will help you make the most of the experience!
The main one is to have at least a general strategy for your day (or days). By that, I mean:
• Are you going to a few specific wineries or just cruising? – This is important because not all wineries are open on the same days, or at all! The last thing you want is to plan your trip around certain destinations, only to turn up and find they are not open. A quick look at the winery’s website can avoid this problem.
• Are you looking to taste/buy specific wines, or just what is available? – The same argument applies here, but even more so! Many wineries don’t pour their best wines, both because they are the most expensive, and made in the lowest quantities. Also, what is available is often driven by the time of year. Early spring is great for newly released white wines, but don’t expect new reds – they come out later in the summer! Again, a quick check of the website (or a phone call) can help.
• Are you going to drink or spit? – No, this is not a disgusting question. If you plan to visit a number of wineries – and taste many of their wines – you should plan on spitting for a couple of reasons. First off, if you don’t, you will need a designated driver! It doesn’t take very long before those “little glasses of wine” build up and make you unsafe to drive. As well, the more you drink, the less you will be able to actually taste. A “drunk” wine taster doesn’t have a lot of skill!
Okay, so you have your strategy. But now you are at the first winery, and there are a range of wines to taste. What do you do?
Well, this is the easier part – taste what you want to taste!
The great thing about tasting at wineries is that you are in control of what you want to taste, particularly since you are probably paying a nominal fee to do so anyway. So don’t feel obligated to taste everything, or the style of wines you don’t like.
You should, however, taste whites before reds (if you are doing both). If you do the opposite, your taste buds may get overwhelmed, making it impossible to taste the more delicate white wines. And leave any sweet wines to the end. The extra sugar will make it very hard to go back to red or white wines!
Finally, what about any expectations about buying a bottle or two? People often ask me that, saying they feel guilty if they don’t buy after tasting. And, to be honest, I experience that as well.
But the best thing to do is – get over it! You know what you like (and don’t like) and what you think is worth buying (and not). Don’t be swayed by guilt or anything else to buy something you don’t want to buy.
The wineries don’t mind, by the way. The cost of the tastings – and the wines involved – is all factored into the overhead of the winery and, ultimately, the cost of the wine. While they certainly appreciate purchases, they will also not be insulted if you don’t buy anything.
Last, but not least, is the most important tip – have fun! Don’t be intimidated by “wine speak” or any “wine snobs”. Wine is supposed to be fun, and wine tasting even more fun. Taste as much as you like, buy if you want, but just have a good time.
Otherwise, why are you there in the first place?