subscribe: Posts | Comments      Facebook      Email Steve

Tasting room etiquette, Top 10 Wines of the Week


I came across this online article on tasting room tips and etiquette, and it’s so right-on, it should be photocopied and put up on the walls of every tasting room in the world. These two gals (Lil and Shari) hit it right out of the park.

I don’t do the tasting room thing anymore, since my job gets me past the tasting room right into the winery. But I understand that the tasting room is the average consumer’s window into wine country, and I have enormous respect for tasting room employees. They have to be nice to everyone, even when people aren’t being very nice to them. They have to know all about the wines they’re pouring, and they also have to be prepared to answer all kinds of off the wall questions.

When travelers to wine country ask me which wineries to visit, I usually advise them to go to smaller places. The more popular wineries can be crowded, especially during the tourist season, which means less attention paid to you. Many wineries that don’t have open tasting rooms will take visitors by appointment. That makes the visit feel extra special, but I would advise people that, if you make an appointment, do some homework beforehand. Research the winery, its history and ownership, what it produces and what the critics have said about its wines. That way, you’ll be able to have a much higher level conversation than if you just walk in the door armed with no information at all.

Another good thing about a by-appointment visit is that your host isn’t limited to staying in the tasting room. He or she can take you out into the vineyard and explain the intricacies of grapevines. Or he’ll take you into the winery. I can imagine some visitors to wine country thinking that wine comes from the tasting room. It doesn’t, and understanding the long journey from vine to crusher to bottle will enhance anyone’s appreciation of wine.

Top 10 Wines of the Week

As usual, you’ll find my scores and reviews in upcoming issues of Wine Enthusiast.

Novy Cellars 2008 Rosella’s Vineyard Syrah (Santa Lucia Highlands); $33, 263 cases, 14.2%

Calera 2007 Mills Vineyard Pinot Noir (Mt. Harlan); $45, 943 cases, 14.9%

All of Calera’s new 2007 Pinots are excellent, as is their 2009 Mt. Harlan Viognier

Mumm Napa 2002 DVX (Napa Valley); $55, case production not revealed, 12.5%

Kudos also to Mumm Napa’s 2006 Blanc de Blancs ($30), NV          Brut Rosé ($24), NV Brut Prestige and NV Brut Reserve

Nobility 2007 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon (Napa-Sonoma); $75/375 ml., 333 cases, 14.2%

Donum Estate 2008 Estate Bottled Chardonnay (Carneros); $50, case production not revealed, 14.1%

Lynmar 2009 Rose of Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $22, 625 cases, 14.3%

Lynmar’s 2008 Pinot Noirs also are quite good

Highway 12 2008 Serres Ranch Bordeaux Blend (Sonoma Valley); $20, 2,300 cases, 14.3%

Morgan 2007 Double L  Syrah (Santa Lucia Highlands); $40, 75 cases, 14.3%

Pedroncelli 2009 Vintage Selection Chardonnay (Dry Creek Valley); $12, 4,500 cases, 14.2%

  1. Another good tip is to contact the local winery association (NVVA, SCVA etc.) because they will provide you with maps and other information that will make your research easier.

  2. hi, another thing folks should remember with by-appointment places is that we don’t usually overlap appointments, in order to give you one on one time, and so therefore are possibly turning people away who request your same time. (Especially Fri, Sat, Sun) Understanding this and being somewhat punctual is very appreciated, and a no-show is not only rude, but hurtful to our business. Secondary, some wineries only have 1-3 appointments a day and so, opening $400 worth of wine for a couple is a pretty big commitment on our side. If we charge a tasting fee, don’t act surprised and then expect it to be waived if you make a token purchase of the cheapest wine, and please don’t negotiate.. it’s uncomfortable for all involved and also really tacky!

  3. Tastebud, good points!

  4. That was a good article. Anything that helps our visitors understand that it is really OK to spit is appreciated! (That’s why they call it tasting, not drinking.)

    Another point is that there is wine country all over California, don’t limit yourself to the “traditional” wine country! (But you knew I’d say that…)

  5. A long time ago when I worked a summer in the old Fetzer tasting room in Hopland (now Brutacao) I kept a phonetic list of the different ways tasting room visitors would pronounce Gewurztraminer. As a German speaker and English major, it amused me. The list is long gone, but the two I remember best were “that G wine,” and “G-wizz-streamer.”

  6. G-wizz-streamer! Hysterical.

  7. Brian Miller says:

    You’re kidding, right? This clearly was written for and by novices. And El Jefe, you’re right, it is Coast chauvinistic. The fee range should be $0-$50 (not sure about the high end, I don’t pay fees). And people, if you like a wine and you plan on buying, don’t hesitate to ask for a second taste.

  8. Mr. Miller–

    I read your comment last night and decided that it might look better in the morning. Sadly, it does not. You are wrong on so many counts, it is hard to know where to begin, it’s Saturday morning, the fog is back and I have been working hard all week. It’s time for some fun.

    1. “You’re kidding, right.” Mr. Miller, how long have you been reading STEVE!, the blog? Have you ever known him to “kid”? I mean other than on Halloween when he runs around North Oakland in his Lone Ranger costume. But other than that? Nah, this was a serious post, and judging by what so many folks in the wine biz like Rusty Eddy, El Jefe, Tastebud (who, by the way has my favorite wine screen name) and kelkeagy, it was a pretty good post.

    2. “This was clearly written by novices”. What makes you think a bunch of young nuns wrote this? Sure, nuns do drink, but when was the last time you saw a bunch of nuns hanging out at Robert Mondavi and then writing blogs about it.

    3. “Written for novices”. I guess you have never hung around winery tasting rooms.

    4. “Coast chauvinistic”. You know, Mr. Miller, all this time, I was thinking you were serious. It is really you who are kidding, isn’t it. There is nothing “coast chauvinistic” in that article. It applies to El Dorado and Amador Counties the same way it applies to Sonoma and Santa Barbara.

    5.”Fee range of $0-50″. Another knee slapper. For fifty dollars, I can buy diamonds and pearls–or several bottles of pretty good wine. Any winery that charges a fee in that range had better be pouring its diamonds, not its sawdust.

    There is a certain etiquette that ought to happen for knowledgable visitors to wineries (it ought to happen for all visitors, in fact) and this article, not written for insiders but for the everyday wine drinker who goes exploring in wine country is spot on.

  9. Charlie said it better than I could. No, I wasn’t kidding. The two ladies wrote a wonderful article.

  10. Good article, but they forgot to mention a key element – no perfume!!! I’ve been in so many tasting rooms where I couldn’t properly enjoy or judge the wine because other guests were doused in fragrance.

  11. Krista… Great point.. NO PERFUME PLEASE.. AND GUYS NO OLD SPICE… YIKES!!! OMG even wine industry people don’t understand this point… Happy Labor Day !!!!

  12. I’m amazed that the only thing Mr Hemihoff took away from that very interesting article is the ‘by appointment only’ portion!

  13. Hi Cindy, my last named is spelled Heimoff, not Hemihoff. I know it’s difficult. Thanks.

  14. Keith, agreed. Keep. The. Perfume. AWAY! it’s inappropriate.

  15. Charlie, thanks so much – my cover is blown! I still wish you’d come up and visit me one day. Anyway – I believe Mr M is correct in one aspect, the article Steve pointed to was written to cover all the bases, novices (nuns included) as well as perhaps serving as a reminder to veteran wine travelers. It certainly wasn’t written BY novices; just with a slight “why thank you, Capt. Obvious” tone.
    Reminders are certainly needed, though. IMHO. The economy has certainly changed they type and quality of the visitors we are receiving in THE wine country (sorry, couldn’t resist), and unfortunately I’ve also seen a dramatic shift in their relative politeness and overall etiquette. I’ve been in 100% by-appointment hospitality now for many years, and so I feel qualified to say that.
    I’ve been shocked, quite frankly, by the number of “just tasters” that have come thru in the last 18 months. I don’t know.. call me idealistic maybe?, but it seems that those who take the time to seek us out, check out our website and then call to make an appointment have already some interest in or knowledge of our brand and our wines, and are perhaps even anxious to buy a few of our winery-only wines to carry home with them. If they’re just drinkers, why in the world would they spend an hour listening to my drivel when they could be at the Local Big Box with like-minded people, getting their drink on and enjoying a nice & easy tasting room crawl?
    And, the lengths they are willing to go to… for example, “splitting” a tasting, but then asking for a larger pour or a 2nd taste. I, for one, do not believe a 2nd taste is rude. In fact, if I’m pouring dessert wine that day, I always ask my guests if they’d like to try anything a 2nd time, before moving on, “to help them decide what they may want to take home.” I DO think it’s rude if you’re splitting a tasting and then try to double up on me so you can get your buzz on. Please, people. Just because I work in a winery does not mean I quit school in the 7th grade.
    Sorry for the rant, but this has happened twice in the last week, and I needed to get it off my chest.
    Oh, And!!! FFS!!! both times, the people were in limos! If you can afford a limo in the Napa Valley (what, ~$400 a day?), can’t you afford a $10 tasting?
    Thanks for listening,
    Your Tastebuddy

Leave a Reply


Recent Comments

Recent Posts