Wine travel is hot, and for good reason. How can wine-lovers resist sipping new discoveries while gazing over inspiring views of rolling vineyards? Before you go, learn to travel wisely with our top tasting-room tips.
Just for Fun
If you're new to visiting wineries, don't feel as though you need to show up armed with encyclopedic wine knowledge and the palate of a master taster.
Above all, you're out to relax. So, rather than sketching out a detailed itinerary with lots of stops, create an open schedule that allows you to stay awhile if you're enjoying a particular winery, or to keep moving if you're not.
A Few Thoughts for First-Timers:
- Get a good map -- often available free from wine country tourist bureaus and hotels.
- Choose a designated driver, or, if visiting a major wine region, consider hiring a guide or joining an organized tour.
- Consider traveling off-season -- not only are the crowds thinner, but travel expenses are often cheaper as well.
- When traveling in a group, make sure everyone shares the same expectations in terms of winery time vs. shopping and sightseeing time.
- You need not offer comments when tasting wine, but if you do, avoid saying that you don't like the wine.
- Have a rough idea in advance which wineries you'd like to visit, including alternates, and make sure their tasting rooms will be open.
- Expect to pay a tasting fee (they are often applicable to purchases, however).
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
By the way, if you love a picnic, this is the perfect time to plan one. Wine country has few rivals in the scenery department! Check ahead with a winery to find out whether they'll allow you to picnic on their grounds. (And be sure to drink their wine with lunch!)
Winery visits differ from any other social situation -- politeness and generosity of spirit trump silly little rules any day. Still, keep the following in mind:
- You don't have to finish every pour.
- Don't wear perfumes or colognes.
- If there isn't a tasting fee, consider buying something as a gesture of appreciation.
- If there is a tasting fee, don't feel as though you must buy something.
- Never be bashful about asking questions -- it's one of the best ways to learn.
- You need not offer comments to your server as you taste, but if you do, be tactful.
- No matter your interest level, take a moment to properly taste and think about each wine.
- It's typical to progress from dry whites to reds to dessert wines, and from lighter to heavier in each category.
- Experts disagree on whether rinsing your glass with water between pours is helpful or necessary; do what seems right for you.
Taking It To the Next Level
Perhaps you're looking for a little more substance along with the fun? In addition to the ideas just mentioned, consider:
- Making an appointment in advance to tour a favorite winery's vineyard and winemaking facilities -- or, requesting an appointment to visit a winery not typically open to the public.
- Doing your most serious tasting before noon, when your senses are at their peak.
- Taking along a small notebook and jotting down names of favorite wines and what you liked about them.
- Asking whether the winery has any unusual wines that may not be widely available.