What to do when attending a wine tasting event

Everyone needs to know the ins and outs when attending a wine tasting event. Today is an exciting time for wine enthusiasts. Regardless of personal preferences or level of sophistication, people are drinking better wines by default. Sound viticulture practices, new technologies, information sharing and plain raw winemaking talent, honed over years of experience, all make for an exciting time for wine lovers.

IllonaEvery person has a “palate” and it is as valid as anyone else’s, including the famed Robert Parker‘s. The only thing separating amateurs from professionals is the sheer number of wines an “expert” gets to sample. However, experts are mere guides. Don’t underestimate one’s own tasting skills. Tasting wine is a very personalized experience. Drinking with a critic’s or local shop purveyor’s palate is like wearing the same suit as Johnny Depp at the Oscars. It requires the same body type and an army of fashion assistants.

Attending a wine tasting event is a very productive way to learn about wine, because it offers a chance to sample a variety of wines. Such events offer a practical and fun way to gain knowledge, and to meet like-minded wine enthusiasts. More importantly, it is an opportunity to learn about one’s personal palate. They are often populated with winemakers and vintners, who are the best original sources for your wine education. Most winemakers are full of goodwill and eager to share their story.

Here are a few suggestions when attending a wine tasting event:

1. Come early, with some caffeine and food. It’s important to be alert and ready to go.

2. Have a strategy. If it’s a big public event, a person can only partake in a small part of the wine offerings. Prioritize by variety, producer, appellation or whatever strikes your fancy. Taste according to a personal wish list first, then roam free.

3. If there is a seminar offered before the event, attend it. Yes, some parts of the seminar will be highly technical. However, in the end, the information retained stays.

4. Spit. It’s not rude or disgusting! However, if safety is paramount, there is nothing wrong with a little discriminate consumption.

5. If choosing to take notes, do it in a fashion that is personally suiting. Don’t feel forced to describe, label, categorize or document every detail. A smiley face or a plus sign is just as valid as exhaustive tasting notes.

6. Drinking wine causes dehydration, so drink lots of water. Being dehydrated will make attending a wine tasting event miserable.

7. Don’t dress heavily or carry lots of stuff. As the room fills up with bodies it will get progressively warmer. Plus, it’s challenging to juggle a glass of wine, a piece of bread and a tote bag.

8. Listen and ask insightful questions. Avoid the temptation to tell the vintner/pourer a personal story. Don’t waste a valuable learning opportunity. Listen vs. talk.

9. Remember to relax and enjoy. Attending a wine event can sometimes be intimidating, especially for novices. Winemakers, who pour samples at these events, want tasters to have a pleasurable experience. Learning about their wines makes a person more likely to buy, especially if the event is enjoyable.

Learning what one doesn’t like is just as important as knowing what one does like. Invest the time, and it’s a wonderful opportunity. Soon every wine taster learns which wines have genuine seductive powers, or which ones are better to spit out.

The wonderful wine world is everything a person chooses to make of it. Personally, I’ve enjoyed every sip, and I couldn’t be happier.

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Ilona Thompson
Ilona grew up in St Petersburg. Awestruck by the beauty of Napa Valley, she moved to SF Bay Area to pursue her undeniable passion for food & wine. She spends a lion's share of her time traveling California wine regions and attending a wide variety of diverse tastings held in San Francisco. She knows her way around some of the most prestigious & exclusive wine & food events in the country. Her inner wine geek led her inside the cellars of highly notable, sought after, elusive, fascinating wineries in California. Follow her whirlwind adventures on twitter @PalateXposure

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  • Daniel Markham

    Excellent post here. I would also suggest wearing dark clothes, as you wouldn’t want the stain to be visible when that barossa shiraz spills on your shirt.

    • Palate Exposure

      Great point. (I myself play a contrarian once in a while & wear light colored clothing just to tempt fate! :)

  • P-G Matuszak

    Great piece. A good tasting host at a winery will help novices out a bit. One in Arizona pours water between samples, offers coffee beans to cleanse the olfactory, and offers samples of pairings like dark chocolate or a bit of grilled chicken. But they are in it to sell wine and may not encourage spitting. A “buzzed” taster is more pliable to suggestions.

    This is a “must read”, especially for couples seeking a romantic weekend in “wine country” who may be doing tastings for the first time.

    • Palate Exposure

      Thank you very much P-G! Always strive to be helpful and a fun read