How to Wine Tour and Taste like a Pro

Touring Willamette Valley wine country is an excellent way to learn about wine and discover your palette preferences.  Winery tastings offer an opportunity to compare different wines side by side with the guidance of professionals.  Wine pros know that tasting and evaluating wine is a bit different than throwing back a few glasses with dinner.  If you use the techniques the experts do you will become a better taster and get the most out of your tour experience. 

No one had to tell you how to drink liquids or chew and swallow food. We all come into the world hard wired to drink and eat.  It is the intention and process that makes focused tastings different from the way most of us use wines in our daily lives. We all need to consume liquids and foods. Some of us choose to really focus on the flavors and characteristics of food and drink.  Here is a systematic approach which will deliver the best way to experience them.

Use all of your senses

Use your eyes

Tilt your tasting glass and look down into the wine.

Observe the color(s) in the liquid.

Is the wine Clear? Cloudy? Opaque? Dull? Vibrant? Many hued? Monochromatic?

Prepare the wine

Holding the glass upright swirl the wine smoothly but vigorously in your tasting glass.  Practicing at home with water reduces the laundry requirements at the end of the day!  The purpose to swirling and otherwise agitating wine (decanting) is to introduce oxygen into the liquid and transform the liquid into a gas form.

Use your nose

Tilt the glass again and inhale through your nose the gas coming right off of the surface of the liquid.  This gas impact is known as the aroma of the wine.  Slowly pull the glass away from your nose and inhale the gas at the top of the glasses head space, this gas impact is known as the bouquet of the wine

Use your mouth and “retronasal cavity” (the space between tongue, roof of mouth and nasal cavity)

Tip the wine into your mouth and swirl it around so that it coats all of the surfaces; cheeks, gums, teeth, roof of mouth and upper throat.  When you attend industry tastings it sounds a bit like a Listerine convention.  However, the “gargle” when you intentionally taste wine is in a different place than mouthwash.  The trill is done with the middle part of the tongue rather than the upper throat and back of the tongue that people tend to do with mouthwash.  This does take some practice, again practicing with water at home is sensible.

The question of “spitting”

At this point in the tasting you can either spit (expectorate, if you prefer…) the wine into a bucket provided for that purpose or you can swallow the wine.  Many consumers find the notion of spitting “gross” or unsophisticated.  For a wine professional spitting is an essential part of performing well while working in the industry.  It is not necessary to spit the wine samples to have a productive and enjoyable tour day, but your palate accuracy and stamina will be enhanced if you do.  You do miss a part of the finish of a wine if you do not swallow the wine.  A good approach is to swallow a sip or two from each sample wine and dumping whatever wine remains in the glass once you have evaluated the wine.

Evaluate the wine

The first step in wine evaluation is to determine if the wine is sound and is typical for the varietal.  It does take some experience with classic wines of the old world to have an informed opinion of typicity.

The second step in wine evaluation is to determine what usefulness a particular wine has.  Is the wine structured to go with food?  Is it a “cocktail’ wine, too high in alcohol and extract to work well at the table?

The third step is to determine personal preference for the wine, is it delicious and compelling for you?

The fourth step is to evaluate the price point and experience of tasting the wine, are both good and fair?

Useful tips

Most wineries offer their guests printed menus.  They are usually happy to let you take them with you.  The menus are a great place to take notes and give you brand identity, contact information, wine details and price points. 

Ask for spit/dump buckets and water at the beginning of your tasting flight and use them!

Wine clubs can be terrific for some people.  If you enjoy most of the wines a winery is producing and you like the people and mission of the brand joining the club can have distinct advantages.  Access to limited production and library wines, winery events, special treatment and discounts are among the incentives to join a club.  If you like a particular bottling you can usually receive discounts by purchasing the wine by the case without the commitment of a club membership

Getting your wine home for out of state wine tourers

Shipping wine has become easier in recent years and most wineries can ship wine to you.  All alcohol shipments must be signed for by an adult and regulations and taxes vary by state, the winery teams can provide you with details.