8 Rules For Visiting Tasting Rooms

There are unwritten rules about visiting winery tasting rooms. Living a few miles south of Napa/Sonoma, a hop-skip-and-a-jump north of the Livermore Valley, and within a day’s drive to the vast majority of the wine made in California has lead me along to many a tasting room. And there are rules. Unwritten rules, but rules nonetheless.

Unwritten, that is, until today.

“Don’t Be That Guy” (or “Gal,” don’t want to be sexist and infer that women can’t also be drunk idiots) is a great way to learn about life and to learn as you go through life. There are cautionary tales all around us, we need only open our eyes. It is with that in mind that I came up with the following—now written—rules.

The Rules Of Wine Tasting

  1. Don’t pregame — Seriously. You’re not in college. Stop it. And even if you are in college, stop it! In case you don’t know, “pregaming” is drinking before you drink. Back in college, if we were going out to a bar, we’d “pregame” at someone’s house or apartment in part because it’s cheaper to drink outside of a bar setting, and in part because the bars were boring early in the evening and we had nothing better to do. I remember being in Sonoma for some wine tasting with friends, and seeing a party bus pass by us while we picked up sandwiches and water. Clearly visible through the window was a case of Coors Light. Coors Light, for pete’s sake!

  2. Bring food and water — Speaking of which, it’s a lot easier to keep from making a damn fool of yourself if you have some water to sip between wineries, and some food to put in your belly. And no, the table crackers or breadsticks or whatever offered at many wineries don’t count. Bring or buy something substantial.

  3. Don’t be afraid to spit — I’ll admit, I don’t often do this. But then, I can hold my shit. Some other people can’t. So don’t be afraid to spit! Every tasting room bar will (should?) have a spittoon available, both to spit into and to pour out any taste you don’t want more of. I used to worry about offending the tasting room staff by pouring out or spitting, but not any more. Now, if I’m standing there with the winemaker

  4. Designate a driver — This should go without saying, but even if you follow my recommendations about spitting and eating, you still don’t want to take a chance. Rent a limo if you have to, but get to and fro without endangering yourself, your party, and countless others out on the road.

  5. Don’t pretend you know more than you do — A real story, related to me by a member of the tasting staff at Concannon: “A guy was in with a bunch of people and trying to impress them. Every time I made a comment about our wine, he repeated it, nodding like he knew the answer all the time. It was getting a little tiring, so when I poured his group a taste of our Cabernet Sauvignon, I didn’t say anything and was hoping he’d have something to say. He asked, ‘How much of this is Cabernet, and how much is Sauvignon.’” Wow. Don’t be that guy!

  6. Make room for everyone — Standing at the tasting bar? Chatting with the staff? That’s all good. But every once in a while, it might be nice to make room for others who want to start their tasting flights as well. This works best (like most social interactions) if they then let you back to continue yours. The fact of the matter is that tasting rooms can get very busy, and space at the bar is necessarily limited. Pick up your glass. Look around the room, or take it outside for a bit. Share the space.

  7. Remember, you’re a guest — Winery tasting rooms, especially those on winery property, and especially when winery property includes someone’s home, need to be treated with the respect shown by a houseguest. At least, by any houseguest who wants to be invited back for a return stay.

  8. Remember, they’re a business — Tasting rooms exist to sell the wine you’re tasting. If the winery charges a tasting fee, it’s an attempt to keep out the rabble, and an attempt to recoup the cost of offering the wine for tasting. In my experience, every single winery that has charged me a tasting fee has waived 100% of it when I’ve purchased a bottle. Some times the wine is out of my price range, so I pay my $10-$20 and call it even. But it’s so much nicer to go home with something good, and the winery appreciates selling bottles more than flights. It’s win-win!

With these rules in mind, everyone’s tasting room experience will be improved. Do you have your own rules that should be followed? Am I off-base by any of the above? Let me know!

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