What to Expect when Visiting a Winery Tasting Room
by Terry Sullivan
From Wine Trail Traveler Newsletter, August 2007
Most tasting rooms are similar in the way they operate. When entering the tasting room, a tasting room staff member will greet you. Walk up to the tasting bar and say you would like to taste some of the wines. Some wineries charge for tastings and others do not. Occasionally a souvenir glass is included when you pay a tasting fee. You may have a choice to taste all the wines you would like on their list, or to choose a certain number of wines to taste, such as five wines. On rare occasions, you may find a winery tasting room that has a policy of allowing you to pour your own wine.
Let the winery consultant guide your tasting. We have experienced consultants who pour the wine and tell us what we are about to smell and taste. Others will ask us what we observe about the wines. However, the latter is less frequent. There is a certain risk that winery staff takes if they ask your opinion. I recall a look of disappointment when one tasting consultant asked me what I thought a wine tasted like and I replied, “Leather.” The consultant thought it tasted like coffee. I do not drink coffee and now I have a sneaky feeling that it must taste like leather.
If you go to a tasting room on a less busy day (usually in the middle of the week), you will enjoy the opportunity to talk about the wine, winery and vineyards. Most tasting room staff members are knowledgeable about the wines they are pouring. A mere one percent of the wineries we have visited had a staff member who admitted that he just helps on the weekend and pours the wine. He told us he did not know anything about the wines he was pouring.
Most of the time, you will stand at the tasting bar. Some tasting rooms have bar stools next to the tasting bar. This is a very welcome addition if you are tasting at your third winery of the day. Some wineries use tables for wine tastings. At McGregor Vineyard and Winery along Keuka Lake in New York, you will sit at a table. The wine consultant will bring a plate of bite-sized food and will discuss the wine list with you. We also had a “sit down and be served” experience at Gloria Ferrer in California.
The “sit down at a table” theme continued at Schramsberg in California. After a tour of the caves at Schramsberg, the tour group gathered in a small dining room that had three tables set for a group of people. Our tour filled two of the tables. The wine consultant talked about the sparkling wines and then served us at the table. This afforded a great opportunity to talk about the wine with the other people at your table. This intimate approach occurred after group tours at Pine Ridge Winery and Quintessa in California.
Occasionally the winemaker will be on hand and may give a tour and conduct your tasting. Our most memorable tour was at The Lenz Winery on Long Island in New York. The winemaker had us taste his wines from the stainless steel tanks. He asked us what we thought and more often than not agreed with us. His tour proceeded to the barrel room and with thief in hand had us taste the wine from some of the barrels. Tasting wine from the barrels or tanks can give you an idea if the wine is ready or what more aging will do to it. The winemaker at Prince Michel Vineyards and Winery in Virginia has special barrel tastings. He discusses his wines and the stage they are at when you taste them.
One of our favorite tastings was during the tour at Del Dotto Winery in California. The tour led our group through the over one hundred year old candle-lit tunnels. Our guide stopped along the way and had us taste wines from the barrels. If we liked the wine, we took a ticket attached to the barrel. After the tour, we could order any of the wines we tasted. The wine would be bottled and shipped to many destinations.
Visiting winery tasting rooms is a great activity. Try to limit the number of tasting rooms you visit in one day. We try to visit two or three in a day. Tasting rooms are less crowded on the weekdays. Call ahead or check their times on the Internet before you start your adventure.