Seven Things To Never Say in a Winery

I get it.

 The wine is (sometimes) free and usually generous in its offering.  The winery staff enlivens the taste with glad stories of the winery – or the wines – or the places their grapes grow.  

so many glasses… so little time.

After witnessing a few of the following behaviors first hand, or first nose, here’s a few gentle reminders, by way of their errant phrases overheard, or self-confessionally rendered, where wine tasting happens.

Plan your visit, plan to have a good time and do the winery and fellow tasters the favor of avoiding these phrases:

“Is this too much cologne/perfume?” – Yes.  If wine were a beverage as loud as a rock concert, or if our noses were as sensitive as a dog’s, your Boss or Chanel might not matter.  Let’s just agree that Axe exists to eliminate odor not enhance it.  Further, if wineries were nightclubs, it would be great to smell like a Dior, a Flowerbomb or Jimmy Choo – so far they’re not.

 Wine’s volume resembles background Jazz, especially the parts that make them both worth the listen.  Strong outside aromas, self-imposed or not affect the way the wine’s aromas are available to our poor noses.  Leave the strong stuff at home to smell the good stuff.

“I dressed this way to stop by the gym later.” – Wineries are certainly not places for fancy dress; work gets done there.  If you’ve ever had to extract a stiletto heel from a floor drain or sod from the stitching of your Berlutis, then you know that a vineyard or barrel room tour makes no apology to precious attire.  But do dress the part.  

Sloppy clothes, gym shorts, tennis wear distracts from the winery’s raison d’etre, even if it says Lululemon on the tag.  Besides, who goes to yoga drunk?  Wine tasters aren’t expecting to impress anyone else but they are dressing to be among people who are also out tasting wine.

Bonus Tip – “I think my aunt got red wine out of cashmere once”.If there is one skill I could teach young oenophiles, it would not be getting a cork out of a bottle.  YouTube is overrun with demonstrations.  But, the single best skill for winetasting remains the swirl.  Practice at home.  Put a few ounces of water in your wineglass, place it on the counter, rotate the base of the glass to swirl the liquid enough to coat the inside of the glass – without spilling it.  Try it clockwise – go back for counter-clockwise when you’ve mastered that.  Practice over the sink.  Swirl exuberantly. ALMOST spill in the sink.  With your new proficiency, explain to your friends that swirling is for temperature, oxidation and therefore all the expressive flavors in wine.  Really say “expressive”.  The Six P’s of Winery Visits: Proper Previous Practice Prevents Problematic Phrases.  Remember, practice at home first so that you are never heard to say anything resembling the phrase above.

“I didn’t think it would be so cold!” – Some wineries invite their guests in to the barrel and fermentation areas of the winery where the effects of temperature more drastically affect the character of the wine.  It may be 55 degrees in the cellar.  That’s a good thing.  It means that glass swirling you practiced will actually be able to do something.  Winery wear may best be layered, like the flavors in the wine.

“Which wines are made with beer?” –  Maybe there are no stupid questions, but even my 5 year old granddaughter knows wine is made with fruit and beer with “not-fruit”.  Spend at least a little time and attention knowing that you are going to taste wine, why it tastes that way and why there are no Wine IPA’s.

“Wow. Does this horse have diabetes?” Part 1 – Not every wine you taste will be to your taste. It’s supposed to be that way.  The wines you like will be easily distinguished by those you do not, but the words to describe those differences will come later, sometimes much later.  In the meantime, save the disparaging comments for anyplace besides the winery; if it’s truly that odd, they already know you won’t like it.

“Wow. Does this horse have diabetes?” Part 2 – So it’s ok, even respected, to spit out most of the wine you taste.  Especially if you are having 2 ounces each of the twelve wines the winery has on offer.  Don’t get me wrong; when I am tasting Harlan or Quilceda Creek, I am not spitting out the wine; yet neither am I gulping it.  But here’s the point.  Spitting the majority of the wines you taste permits you to remember the ones you liked.  If I am at one of a few tasting appointments for the day, spitting the wines let’s me taste them and continue before my knees buckle and the gentle fog of inebriation renders them all distressingly similar.  Perhaps even more important is that inebriation removes the ability to whisper.  At any volume, incriminating drunk phrases escape the lips faster than the wine one shouldn’t have swallowed.  I know.  I can only hope that winemaker forgot me sooner than I forget my shock at my outside voice inside.

“Oh, am I in the way?” – Tasting room counters often host more people than can fit at them.  Once you and your group have your taste, move aside to enjoy the wine and let others or other groups up to bat.  Some of them may be unaccompanied wine writers who may have moved aside for your turn- who may be up for a conversation and maybe even help learn more about the wine than either of you knew.  And, it keeps the strain of jilted service away from the staff’s responsibility.

“How long is this tour?” – There seems to be one person in a group who could not care less about the winery, whether the charm of the alcohol has taken over(see above) or if someone just wants to get out of the ‘cold’(see above), there always seems to be someone who is more interested in the end of the tour than the way the sample in your glass arrived there.

Winemakers love to share why their liquid art studio produces unique art, don’t embarrass your friends by being the one who fails to get the point. 
With these reminders in hand, I hope to see you all out tasting wine, enjoying yourselves and making the world a better place for wine lovers and winemakers everywhere.  Please share this to make everyone’s wine world a little bit brighter!


The Edges of Wine Knowledge



It is an understatement to say that fermented grapes inspire anxiety. Am I doing this right?  Will I know if this wine is good or bad?  What is this salesperson/sommelier trying to push off on me?  Am I paying too much for this?

As a one of the wine folk of the world, I consider it every wine person’s first job to reduce that anxiety – after all, that’s what wine does, in the end.

Toward this task, we earnestly describe grape varieties, wine traditions,  tasting techniques, sulfites, types of soil, food affinities, glassware – to name a few. And we keep it up. And describing and learning more.


But, here’s a fun secret. We don’t know.  Even the Master-est Master of Wine doesn’t and can’t know some things.  These things are unknowable in wine and therefore a taster’s opinion will always remain supreme.


To balance this perspective, sure, we know plenty about grape varieties and verifiable details, but the rest of the influences on perception and value remains a happy cocktail of hypothesis and fashion.


For example, why can’t screwcaps age wine like a cork-stoppered bottle? We don’t know. (There’s a gob of money for whoever figures it out – and synthetic cork producers will tell you they already have…. they are drinking their own kool-aid.)


How do we communicate meaningful scent impressions? We don’t know. (More gobs of money…)


Which glass is best for capital-C Champagne? The fashion today is for the conventional white wine glass, away from the bouquet-numbing flute and not all the way back to the bubble-flattening coupe. Today’s fashion would would scandalize Marie-Antoinette’s admirers.  Try Champagne in a variety of different glasses to see where you prefer it – and let it be warmer to the 55-65 degree range for optimal perceptability.   Riedel’s Oregon Pinot Noir glass has been a personal favorite for years as it has enough volume to really let the wine express itself and enough closure to concentrate the aromas it offers.   I think I heard one of the kids say, it’s pretty woke up?  In language and in taste fashion, there is always more to explore – even when it’s done awkwardly.  In wine as in so much else, opinion and fashion have shelf-life.


Teaching people the pathways to finding their own taste preferences, I find it common to not trust one’s own opinion.  We want to bounce it off other’s like echolocation.  A recurring student at a wine class cleared it up for me one night. I told him I was surprised to have him attend as he had been to so many classes before. He said it was reassuring to hear it again.


Ok, I get that.  Hearing a familiar song or watching a familiar play on a new production remains a fine way to make sure your key still fits the lock.   We all play a little bit of Doubting Thomas when it comes to our own wine knowledge.


Take heart if you can’t recall all the grapes and their min/max percentages allowed in Morellino di Scansano. Or, why you would (probably) like it better than Chianti with grilled Beef Ribeye…


To this end of education and explanation, your questions give good sommeliers job security.  Genuinely curious tasters and diners offer that in return for the informed guidance.   Second, the recommendations with food are all fashion or fashion with a solid dose of nostalgia.  They live, however, as fashion we know, fashion sommeliers represent in context not mere recitation.


Away from fashion, back to the edges of wine knowledge, why do grapes taste like the place they grew?  Not one of the world’s wine-folk knows for sure – but everyone agrees it does.


Relax, enjoy the wine. Have another glass and talk about it. It will taste even better. Maybe, we get to know more about the wine, but we absolutely get to know more about each other – and I know that’s really the point.