The Order of Things: Getting the Most Out of a Wine Tasting

iStock_000015284487SmallThe first time you visit a tasting room at a winery, it can be a daunting experience.

Daunting in a delicious, palate-awakening, senses-satiating way… but daunting nonetheless.

This is especially true if the winery offers lots of wines to sample. Some have so many that they restrict guests to a certain number — perhaps five or six — and ask the guest to select them.

Did we mention daunting?

I recently visited a winery that had 23 wines available for tasting. I kid you not. Twenty-three. Its pricing was eight tastes for $10.

Fortunately, since I’ve been doing this for a while, I knew what to do to narrow down the candidates.

First, I asked the tasting room attendant to name their best white wine, their best red wine and their best dessert wine. An experienced attendant will have been trained to know what to pour when such a request is made. Those that haven’t will typically reach for the most expensive bottles. Either way, I’m going to get tastes of three wines that probably are quite good.

After that, I look for unusual wines — a lesser known varietal, a promising sounding blend, a single-vineyard bottling. That often will complete the lineup, but if I still have a choice or two available, I’ll look for designations such as “Reserve” or “Winemaker’s Selection,” etc.

You can use those tips to create a pretty nice selection of wines at just about any tasting room.

One other strategy is to simply put your tasting fate in the hands of the attendant. That usually works fine, since they should know the product line. But if you opt for that approach, just be prepared to answer the question, “What kind of wine do you like?”

Once the lineup of wines for tasting has been determined, you still need to figure out the order in which to taste them. Again, the tasting room attendant should know what to do. But should they hesitate, here are a few guidelines to remember:

* White before red.

* Red before sweet.

* Light before heavy.

* Sparkling before all.

* Sweet after all.

Following that “order of things” will enable your palate to taste every nuance of every wine. If you taste a sweet wine before a dry one, the sugar remaining in your mouth will mask the flavor of the dry wine.

A visit to a winery tasting room need not be a daunting experience. In fact, it should be both educational and fun. Follow the basic guidelines we’ve outlined, and you’ll be in for a memorable day.

And we mean memorable in a good way.

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Tomorrow: How to pace yourself when tasting wine.

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Posted in Wine Tips
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