Napa Valley Wine Tasting Etiquette
Welcome to the world of Napa Valley wine tasting! Many of our clients ask us what to expect in the Napa Valley tasting rooms during their trip. Most of the personnel who are pouring are fun, congenial, and ready to help. Tasting experts agree that a good wine tasting experience can make even mediocre wines taste better. Conversely, if you run into a rude staff member pouring wines, no matter how good the drink may be, it probably will not appeal to you and you most likely won’t buy it there or anywhere. Luckily, Napa Valley has so many wineries that if you aren’t enjoying the atmosphere and service of the one you choose, quickly move on!
How to Prepare for your Napa Valley Wine Tasting
- Eat beforehand. Even when you sip lightly, the alcohol levels can often add up before you know it.
- Avoid coffee and chewing gum. Especially right before wine tasting, as it will affect your palate.
- Bring bottled water. Staying hydrated is critical—drink as much water as wine.
- Avoid anything that interferes with your sense of smell. No heavy perfumes or shaving lotions. Smokers beware: remember to consider that the smell of smoke could affect the tasting experience for you and others.
- Dress in layers and wear comfy shoes. Temperatures can vary drastically from foggy mornings to sunny afternoons. Take a lightweight jacket along—caves are kept at a consistent temperature of about 55 to 60 degrees and can feel chilly at any time of year. Shoes should be closed toed for the dusty trips out to the vineyards.
- Bring a cooler. You definitely don’t want the wines to “cook” in your car, which is possible even on a cool day if the sun shines through the windows of a parked vehicle. Make sure to pack a cooler or Styrofoam shipper.
Once you Arrive at the Tasting Room
- No phones! Remember to switch your phone to vibrate and if you need to take a call, step outside. Tasters will be concentrating on hearing descriptions of the wine and answers to questions.
- Ask questions. The winery staff is (or should be) well trained to interact with novice and professional alike.
- Take notes. This will help you remember what you tasted and it is frequently a signal to the pourers that you are serious about the tasting exercise. Often this will get you a more personalized treatment, and sometimes a few wines to taste that aren’t not on the schedule.
- Use the dump bucket. Do pour out (or spit) the wine after you have had a sufficient tasting—your pourer will not be offended and will recognize that you are ready for the next taste.
- Feel free to share your tastings. Most tasting rooms have a nominal charge for a certain number of pours. For example, you might be able to choose four wines per person from a list of ten. In these circumstances, we often prefer to each order four different wines, taste each other’s, and thus experience eight different pours. When you spend a day in Napa, you really don’t need more than a sip or two of each sample, and there is always more to be found right up the street!
- Be courteous. Many of the wineries enhance their employees’ salaries based on commission on what is sold, so purchases are appreciated. If you receive special service, a letter to the winery owner or manager is a nice way to show your appreciation. If you are going to be late or have to cancel a tasting, you should always call the establishment that is expecting you. These businesses are often tremendously busy and will hold your spot as agreed to. But if you need to alter your plans, letting them know in advance is the best thing to do.
- Always be safe. In the past few years, police have rightfully become adamant about enforcing the laws of the road. If you aren’t using a limo or shuttle service, plan ahead for the best way to ensure your safety and the safety of others.
- Spitting? Yes, of course! Newcomers to tasting rooms are sometimes surprised and even appalled to see other tasters spitting a mouthful of wine into the dump bucket! Actually, this is a very common and necessary practice among experienced tasters. We encourage spitting as a tasting technique; it helps keep palates clean and heads clear. In crowded tasting rooms, or where buckets are too full for comfort, request a paper or plastic cup for more discreet spitting.
Enjoy your Napa Wine Tasting experience to the fullest!