Everyone from wine snobs to boxed wine drinkers love a good wine tasting. It’s the only way to try a bunch of different types of vino without going broke in the process. Plus, nothing is as romantic as a long, warm day wandering from vineyard to vineyard in wine country. To learn how to make the most of every wine tasting, we caught up with Courtney Schiessl, a wine writer, sommelier and wine consultant; Paul Yanon, the director of wine education at Colangelo & Partners; and Chris Struck, a sommelier at Union Square Cafe. Here are the unspoken rules of drinking at a wine tasting, according to the pros.
Don’t Drink It All
“The biggest mistake I’ve seen comes from the determination to drink every single wine at the tasting,” Schiessl says. While working at big tastings like Wine Riot, Schiessl witnessed people throwing back drinks like water, completely ignoring the fact that a lot of small drinks in a short amount of time adds up to one really big drink. Have a good time, Schiessl advises, but “nobody wants to be that wasted guy slurring his words by 7 p.m.”
Mix It up Between Red and White
If there’s only one rule you’ve heard about wine, it’s probably that you should drink the lightest whites first and the heaviest reds last. But that’s not always the case, and you should tailor your tasting to your preferences.
“There’s no reason why you can’t mix it up,” Schiessl says. “If you drink a very heavy, sweet or red wine before going back to a lighter one, just rinse your glass with a swish of the new wine or with a tiny bit of water.”
Don’t Wear White
It doesn’t matter if it’s summer and you feel like galavanting around in your pastel clothing—white and light colored clothing will stain. “I’ve seen folks in full suits and white shirts leave tastings like they just left an abattoir (slaughterhouse),” Yanon says. “Thankfully (knock on wood), none of these folks were me.”
Enter Each Tasting with a Plan
Do some research and map out which wines you definitely want to try, and leave room for a couple new ones as well. Large tastings or multiple winery stops can be overwhelming, and you’re not going to be able to give every wine an equal amount of attention. “Palate fatigue is real,” Struck says. So make sure you taste the ones you know you want to try before your mouth gives up on you.
Ask Questions, Even Basic Ones
The people pouring wine aren’t mindless robots. In most cases, they’re passionate about wine and eager to pass on their knowledge. If someone says a word that you don’t understand like a region or a term, don’t be too embarrassed to ask what it means. “I promise, you won’t sound stupid,” Schiessl says. “You’ll sound like you really want to learn!”
Asking questions is one of the key ways to get the most out of a tasting. You’re more likely to find your new favorite and learn something that’ll make you seem like the expert around your friends. Wineries appreciate people who don’t act like know-it-alls, Yanon says, and if you ask questions and listen “there’s a very good chance you’ll find a good reason to like or love what you’re tasting.”
Tell the Pourers What You Like
The people guiding the tasting will be able to do their job more easily if they know your likes and dislikes. “This will allow the tasting room staff to customize the types of wines that they pour for you, meaning that you are spending your money wisely,” Yanon says.
Sip or Spit, Don’t Drink
Wine tastings can be social events, but they’re not meant to be a place where you get so drunk you pull a Miles and chug from the spit bucket. “The number one rule at tasting is: Do not ‘drink’ at tastings, but sip and spit at them,” Struck says. It’s especially important when you’re facing down a long line of wines to try.
“If you are at a winery or wine tasting with friends as a social activity, nobody will look at you strangely if you don’t spit,” Schiessl says. “But if you know that there are a lot of wines to taste, or especially if you feel yourself getting drunk, it doesn’t hurt to spit from time to time either.”
Just so long as you watch where you spit. At a sake tasting, Struck watched as someone spit into a water pitcher that was meant for glass rinsing and drinking, then saw someone a few minutes later use the pitcher for drinking water. Of course, the average person often doesn’t have time to perfect their spit stream. Both Schiessl and Yanon say there’s no shame in bringing your own little cup to spit into that you can dump into the main bucket at the end.