It’s time for the Wine Spectator Grand Tour again (see dates and locations here), which means it’s a good time to review some tips about the best way to approach a wine tasting event. I combed the archives of WineSpectator.com to find the best advice, as follows:
1. Dress for the event
Here are four tips from wine pros for looking sharp and staying comfy at a wine event. To sum up: dress in dark colors, don’t wear fragrance, avoid dangling sleeves, and consider the venue to suss out the appropriate dress code. Women should consider wearing flats for comfort. If you have long hair, tie it back so you can spit easily (see tip 4) or keep a hand free to hold it back. And if you’re going to take notes in a notebook or carry anything, bring a purse or have deep pockets to stash your writing materials. Carrying a wineglass around means you’ll only have one hand free for holding a plate of food, shaking hands with winemakers and taking notes.
2. Come up with a plan for tasting
Can you get a list of the producers or wines at the tasting ahead of time, or do you have a sense of what will be offered? If so, come prepared with a game plan. At the Wine Spectator Grand Tour and Wine Experience, senior editor Tim Fish likes to try wines that aren’t in his California tasting beat and notes that people often rush the tables for Bordeaux first-growths. If you want to try the biggest names, head there first; or skip the busiest tables so you can fit in more new discoveries.
If you’re using the tasting as a scouting trip for bottles you want to buy, remember to bring something to write with so you can take notes, or use your camera phone to document the wines you liked.
Even if you’re going just to have a good time, it makes sense to have a plan so that your palate doesn’t get worn out. Light wines to heavier wines? A comparative tasting of only one variety such as Pinot Noir? All up to you. Senior editor James Laube likes to finish with Champagne, which he calls the “perfect palate cleanser.”
3. Eat something
Tasting wines (and maybe drinking some too) on an empty stomach is a recipe for getting drunk quickly and not being able to enjoy the rest of the event. Remember to eat beforehand, and if there’s food offered at the tasting, take a break to eat there too. Drinking water in between wines helps to stay hydrated.
4. Remember to spit (at least most of the time)
Yes, you’ll be tasting good wines, and yes, no one likes to “waste” wine, but those tasting-sized pours really add up—and add up quickly at that. To get the full experience of the event, you’ll want to pace yourself by spitting wine as you go. Unglamorous maybe, but take heart—all the pros do it.
For tips on how to spit, check out this Q&A from Dr. Vinny, "How Do I Spit Without Looking Like a Distressed Camel?" The short version: Practice at home first, don’t do it too hard or too slow, and get close to the spit bucket. If you’re spitting into a full shared bucket, you’ll want to spit slowly to avoid backsplash (ew!) or you can ask to have the bucket changed out or find another receptacle. If there’s a crowd around the spit bucket, you might want to wait to take a sip of wine until you can get closer.
5. Think ahead about the red-wine teeth dilemma
It’s an unfortunate side effect of the wine-tasting business that drinking red wine can stain your teeth. Unless you want to leave the event with a purple-tinged grin, think ahead about how you’re going to manage this. Brushing your teeth right after wine tasting can strip your teeth of protective enamel. The better route is to remember to drink water and maybe bring some chewing gum for when you're done, says Laube.
6. Talk to the winemakers
Wine can be more fun and memorable when you know the story behind the bottle. Take the time to talk to the winemakers, winery owners or other staff pouring at the event. If you have any questions about styles, grapes, vintages or regions, they are a great resource. If you’re polite and enthusiastic, they’ll want to answer your questions and make a connection—that’s why they’re there. But don’t monopolize their time or hog space at the table if plenty of guests are clamoring to get a taste.
7. Have fun
Some people get very serious when they’re tasting wines, but remember it’s OK to smile and have a good time too. You’re tasting wine, not attending a tax seminar, and you will not be quizzed at the exit doors.