We just took Lisa's daughter wine tasting in Sonoma County. It was Brittany's first time to wine taste. We realized that there are a lot of unknowns if you have never been wine tasting before. Following is some information that will get you prepared to go out and have an enjoyable tasting experience.
First, the wineries are either show up during designated hours and taste or they are by appointment only. Check online before you head out on your tour. Also if you have 5 or more people in your group, go ahead and give the winery a call and set up an appointment. This way they can accommodate your group and give you the best experience. There are wine tour services out there that will set up your tours and provide transportation. They are not particularly cheap but they do allow you to relax and enjoy the experience, plus you don't have to worry about drinking and driving. They will take you to 4 or 5 wineries and many times, take you to some hidden gems that you would ordinarily miss. Most services also provide lunches, either a sit down meal or a picnic. It does make for a really nice day.
Secondly, it's gonna cost you some bucks to taste. The days of the free tastings are all but gone. Most wine bar tastings are $15. There are some $10 tastings and some $20, $25 and up. Most wineries also offer some options such as reserve or estate tastings, sit down tastings, barrel tastings, wine cave tastings, wine and food pairings and winery tours. If you buy some wine your tasting fee is usually waived.
Thirdly, plan your day. The amount of wineries can be overwhelming. Do a little bit of research. Decide what you want to taste. If you like zins, go to a winery that specializes in zins. Same with other varietals. If you are new to wine then you can pick just about any winery that you want. Now choose 3 or 4 wineries that you want to hit but be flexible. You might find one that you really like and spend a couple of hours there or get to one that you don't care for and leave after 15 minutes. You might see one while driving that you want to stop in and check out, that's fine. It's your day, have fun.
The wineries usually serve you 5 tastings and include both whites and reds. If you want to taste just whites or just reds, let them know and they will oblige (although you might miss out on some really good wine). If you can, schedule your wine tasting off season or at least during the week. Summertime and weekends can get really maddening. With fewer people out there tasting, the hosts or hostesses at the wine bar are a lot more laid back. You will probably get an extra tasting or two. If you have any questions, don't be afraid to ask, they will be happy to answer. I always ask them for recommendations on wineries. They will be glad to point in the right direction and many times give you a card for free tastings or 2 for 1s.
Fourthly, Ok, you get to your first winery and walk in. Now what? You will be greeted by someone from behind the bar, unless it's really busy. Just belly up and let them know that you are there for a tasting. They will probably tell you the cost, how many wines they are setting out for tasting that day and give you a list of those wines. You will be tasting lighter wines first and progressing up to bolder ones. Your pour will be around 1.5 ounces. Remember, you are wine tasting not wine drinking. You will have plenty of wine throughout the day so pace it.
Now, you get your first pour and your getting an explanation about the wine and you don't comprehend what the hell the server is talking about. You have to taste and you don't want to look like a dork. Relax! First smell the wine. Aroma is an important part of tasting. Now take a sip and swirl it around in your mouth. You are either going to like it or you are not. If you like it then keep tasting, if not just pour it into the dump bucket and wait for the next pour. Congratulations, you are wine tasting.
Fifthly, (I didn't really believe fourthly and fifthly were words but alas they are, anyway) they are going to try to get you to join their wine club. The people that are behind the bar are there for a reason. They are personable and really good salespeople. You will get the pitch on the last or next to last taste. I'm not saying that you should join or not. That is up to you. We have joined a couple of really good ones but you are not under any obligation to buy anything. If you don't want to join, just smile and say "no thank you". If you really like a particular wine then buy a bottle or two or more. It's only going to cost you a little bit more because, as stated earlier, they will waive the tasting fee and you will not leave empty handed.
Well, that's wine tasting in a nutshell. If you have any other questions or want to make a comment please feel free to contact us. Now get out there and taste some wine.