Winery staff are experts in wine-tasting etiquette, and they’re happy to answer any of your questions. But to help you get ready for your visit, here are some basics for approaching the bar:
Avoid wearing strong fragrances. Perfume or cologne—even heavily scented skin or hair products—can interfere with the aromas of the wine, making it difficult for you, and those around you, to fully appreciate what you’re sampling.
Be prepared to pay for the tasting. Wineries often price their tastings based on the cost of the wine, and those that make their top-tier offerings available to sample will likely charge accordingly. Some, but not all, wineries waive or refund the tasting-bar fee if you buy a bottle of wine.
Cleanse your palate before/between wines (with a sip of water or a cracker). This will “reset” your taste buds, so the flavours of the different wines won’t overlap.
Taste the wines in order of strength (sparkling to white to red to dessert), sweetness (dry to sweet) and age (young to old). Otherwise, the stronger and sweeter wines will overpower the lighter and drier ones. If you’re taking part in a guided tasting, the winery will choose the order for you. If you’re at a tasting bar, just ask the attendant to help you with the order.
Appreciate each wine by sight, smell and taste (in that order). Think about it as starting from the top of your head and working your way down: eyes to nose to mouth.
Feel free to swish the wine in your mouth or quietly gargle it. You may feel silly, but a wine will only reveal its full complexity when it’s mingled with oxygen. Decanting it and swirling it in a glass will also serve this purpose.
Spitting is sometimes advisable—and it’s always acceptable. If you plan to sample a large number of wines on your tour, it’s best to spit (into communal or personal spittoons) after you’ve sipped each one. Otherwise, the alcohol will begin to affect your judgment after a while.
Even if you don’t spit, you don’t have to finish each wine. The point of a tasting is to sample the wine, and this can be done with just an ounce or two. Once you’ve tasted to your satisfaction, leave what’s left in the glass and move on if you’d like. Believe us, wineries expect this—you won’t hurt anyone’s feelings.
When describing the bouquet and flavours of a wine, don’t be afraid to guess. Everyone’s palate is different. The aromas and flavours that you detect may differ from those recognized by others—there is no right or wrong.
Finally, remember that you don’t have to like everything! A wine may be well made and critically acclaimed, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to like it best. Wine appreciation is a personal thing. If everyone preferred the same flavours, we wouldn’t have the great range of wines—varietals and blends alike—that we enjoy in Ontario. Trust your tastebuds!