Wine Tasting 101
in the Age of Coronavirus
Wine tasting adventures have changed in the last many months. You used to be able to get in your car, go to a winery, mostly without appointments, and enjoy an hour or two sipping, learning about wine, visiting and then proceed onward to the next winery. Whereas general wine tasting etiquette has not changed, there are adjustments to be made now before you plan to go wine tasting. So, let’s review what to do before you arrive at a winery – in order to maximize your enjoyment while there – and have fun!
Pre-Plan Your Coronavirus-Era Wine Tasting Adventure
• WEAR YOUR MASK. Although individual, specific requirements may vary somewhat, a good rule of thumb to follow (for everyone’s protection and peace of mind), is to wear your mask until seated, and then when you finish your tasting and are ready to leave, please put your mask back on. Out of consideration for your server, it’s also a good idea to slip it on while he/she is with you.
• BE FLEXIBLE! Rules and regulations are changing daily as to what a winery may or may not do in terms of guests, pouring, food and how they present the experience. What regulations are in effect in Napa County may be different in Mendocino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and other wine country counties.
• CALL the winery in advance to make a reservation, and check what their policies are. Then, try to double check with the winery the day of your visit to see if anything has changed. *If you are a “drive up” without a reservation, be understanding if the winery is unable to accommodate you.
Upon your arrival, some wineries are asking for you to sign a waiver before tasting. Once you are seated, and the experience is about to begin, there are some fundamental guidelines to try and follow to maximize your enjoyment. New to wine tasting or an old pro, following some basic etiquette tips will enhance your adventure as you travel through California’s Wine Country. Even if this is your first time, and you don’t know quite what to expect, there is no reason to be intimidated or self-conscious. You are going to have fun and a great experience! Let’s look at some “dos” and “don’ts”.
• Research ahead of time. Call ahead, and make appointments. Ask about tasting fees, food and current protocol. All wine areas have organizations that can help you plan your wine country visit. That’s what Google is for!
• Ask questions and express yourself! Your server is there to help you enjoy and learn. There are no stupid questions.
• Eat breakfast before you start, take time for lunch and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
• Remember the five “S’s” of wine tasting: See (the wine in the glass), Swirl, Smell (inhale the aromas…what can you identify? Fragrances, flowers, fruits?), Sip and Savor. (Take a small sip, let the liquid surround your taste buds, what flavors can you identify?). Have fun while you explore how wine affects your senses.
• Ask your server to recommend other wineries to visit.
• Try to have a designated driver. If staff feels you have had enough to drink they may refuse service, it’s for your own well-being.
• Trust your palate. Don’t worry if you don’t like what your friends or companions like. Not everyone likes the same things. This is about you – not them.
• Leave a tip for your server. How much depends on where you are, and how many are in a group. Tips are always appreciated. If tasting with the winemaker or owner, instead of tipping, please purchase a bottle.
• Remember, what you like today, you may not like tomorrow; your taste and palate may (and will) change and evolve-and that’s a good thing.
• Make certain you allow enough time between appointments!
• Be patient and understanding of current conditions and regulations.
Most of all – enjoy yourself and have fun
• Don’t be self-conscious to share a tasting with your companion – it’s not looked on as being cheap, in fact, it’s smart. (Although, under current regulations, you may not be able to).
• Don’t worry if you don’t know what “good wine” is. “Good wine” is what you like. Period.
• Don’t feel you have to finish the glass. You are tasting – use the dump bucket. Those little sips add up fast.
• Don’t feel you have to like everything poured.
• Don’t feel self-conscious expressing your opinion, there is no right or wrong.
• Don’t feel pressured to join a wine club. However, there are benefits. So if you like the wine, ask about the wine club.
• Don’t wear strong scents into a tasting room (cologne or perfume), and try not to wear white!
• Don’t forget to hydrate and eat during the day.
Travel Safe and Enjoy your trip to California’s Incredible Wine Country
Websites to Check for Current
Coronavirus Wine Country Updates
• For Napa Valley:
• For Sonoma County:
• For Santa Barbara:
(During these times, it’s prudent to double check your planned visit, if possible, the day of your visit)
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Don Sonderling is a freelance writer covering California’s Wine Country lifestyle and culture, from the Central Coast up through the Napa Valley. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.