We are not wine connoisseurs by any means of the word. Before this year, the extent of our knowledge of wines was that they were either red, white or rosé. In fact, I’m pretty sure if you asked us, we wouldn’t have even been able to tell you where our corkscrew was located. Having said that, we were still interested in the idea of wine tasting, so when an opportunity to go on a wine tour came up we were eager to see what it was all about. Since then, we’ve attended a second wine and food tasting since and have kept this type of event on our list of things to do when we get the chance. We still don’t drink wine that often but we enjoy the experience of touring wine country and learning about new things.
The following is our list of 9 things we think are important to know when planning to go on a wine tasting or tour for the first time.
1. You don’t need to be a connoisseur
As novice wine tasters we’ve learned quite a few things about taking a wine tasting tour in just a few visits. We feel the most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to be an expert on wine in order to enjoy what wineries have to offer. It’s a great activity to do together or as a group and something different from the typical choice of outings. Even if you aren’t a big fan of wine you can find something you may enjoy, learn things, and have a good time.
2. Plan transportation wisely
There are a variety of different transportation methods to get to, and around, wineries in different countries. Whether you are planning on a one stop visit, or a tour of different wineries, make sure you have planned for a designated driver, whether it be a member of your group, a bus, a limo, etc. Some regions offer group tours pre-arranged with transportation varying from bicycles to buses to travel on foot. No matter what you choose, drinking and driving should never mix, and when taking a wine tasting tour, it’s good to plan this aspect well in advance. It’s also good to note that some events in wineries provide an option of non-drinker passes. Cheaper than a regular pass, these will offer admission to the particular event and the ability to participate in any additional activities, such as food pairings.
3. Plan to be there for lunch
This is something we don’t think you will regret. We dined at Trius Winery on Niagara-on-the-lake (see the photo above) on our first visit and had an amazing fixed price, three course lunch. Many wineries and wine regions establish themselves as culinary experts as well and often have award-winning restaurants on site. You can usually try chef-paired wines with your meal and take your tasting to the next level. Combined food and wine events and tours are also a great way to satisfy both the foodie and the wine connoisseur within.
4. Keep moving; experience as many as you can
If this is a rare occasion for you, it may be a good idea to try a few different wineries out to get a feel for the difference in flavours between the different wines and wineries. On our second trip to a wine tasting, we went to “Sip & Sizzle” in the Niagara-On-The-Lake region which gave us a pass to 25 different wineries pairing a particular wine with a BBQ themed tapas style plate. We tried not to linger and managed to get to 20 different wineries that particular visit. Twenty was probably a lot, but managing to visit more than one may be worthwhile if you are not sure exactly what types of wines you enjoy or have not had too much exposure to the varieties.
5. Sipping vs. drinking
It’s called a wine tasting which means you are not obligated to drink the entire amount they pour. In fact, every winery we’ve been to has provided spittoons so you don’t have to actually drink any wine, or you can just have a sip and decide if you want the rest or are done with the glass. If you are with others who do enjoy the drinking experience, you can always hand your sample to them. This is handy if you are the designated driver as you can have a taste here or there if desired. We usually made sure to stick around for a bit at the wineries where our DD did have a sip, even though it was only a taste. The key is to enjoy the experience so how much you drink is up to to. Just remember to stay safe and, like any other drinking situation, be conscious of your surroundings, your consumption, and your transportation methods.
6. Ask questions; it’s a good chance to learn a lot
The sommoliers at the wineries love talking about their wines and their vineyards. Their passion is evident as they explain the differences in varieties, flavours, soils, grapes and all aspects of the wine making process. We were quite surprised to learn that there is a vast amount involved in growing grapes and making wine and a number of factors that affect both such as harvesting times, climates and regions, additives during the fermentation process and much, much more. Since we are not huge wine drinkers, asking questions and taking an interest in the process adds to the overall experience for us and has helped us to enjoy wine more in general. Whether you are a connoisseur or a novice, there is always something to learn.
7. It’s not just a summer thing
Our first time at a wine tasting was in the middle of winter. It was cold, there was snow on the ground and the vineyards looked barren, but there was beauty in the scenery and every winery on our stop was an inviting and comfortable escape from the cold, each offering their own ambiance and character. It was something fun to do and what we learned was that wine is wine, whatever the season. Obviously the wine making process differs throughout the year and for each type of wine, but for us, if we’re tasting a 2010 Riesling from one winery in March or in July, we’ll probably have the same feelings about it. At least with our limited exposure to wines we found this to be our experience. Regardless of the time of year, it’s still a fun experience.
8. Map it out, but don’t be too strict
If you plan to visit more than one winery in a particular region, make sure to have a plan of attack. Niagara-on-the-lake has many wineries and since we had a pass, we wanted to optimize our time and our experience so we made a tentative plan to reach the wineries with the wine samples we knew we wanted to taste and went from there. Be sure to be flexible however, since once you start tasting wines you may learn you like different types than you expected. We also met other tasters at each winery that gave us recommendations. Overall, you may not need a plan but it definitely helps, especially when you purchase passes or attend multi-winery events, to make sure you reach the places you know you’ll enjoy the most.
9. Keep your eyes open for passes and events
Speaking of passes and events, many wine regions have events which offer reasonably priced passes that allow you to visit multiple wineries in the same time frame. This allows you to try different wines, to learn more about what you like and to try new varieties. Often, these events have added bonuses, such as food themed pairings, that turn the wine tasting into a truly entertaining events.
We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below and tell us about some of your greatest wine tasting experiences. What’s your favourite wine region to visit?
YOU CAN DO IT TOO!!
If you are interested in a wine tasting or tour, check the links below for a limited list of wine regions around the world. Don’t forget to look for events! Also, let us know if we’re missing a link to a great wine region and we’ll add it!