Visiting vineyards can be a great way to spend a weekend afternoon relaxing, and with the help of a few smart wine-tasting tips, you can be sure to get the most out of your experience. Planning a bachelorette party? Hoping to enjoy a romantic outing with your sweetie? If you’re looking for professional advice on how to sip, sniff and swirl, this probably isn’t the best list of tips for you, but if you’re ready to start planning a fun and memorable day trip, here are seven wine-tasting tips sure to help you kick back and focus on having a good time.
1. Consider Varietals and Format
Are you a big fan of red or white wines, or is there a certain varietal you especially prefer, like chardonnay or Merlot? By far one of my most important wine-tasting tips is to research wineries in advance to find those that have a selection you’re especially excited to try, along with a format you like. One of my favorite local wineries, for instance, allows tasters to sit down at tables and enjoy food pairings with their wine, rather than simply stand at a crowded counter. Plus, as tempting as it can be to visit only the big-name wineries that everyone else is going to, remember that it’s also entirely possible to have a fun time and discover new wines you love at smaller, off-the-beaten-path vineyards.
2. Set a Budget
Along with serving different varietals and having different tasting formats, vineyards also charge different prices for their wine-tastings, depending upon the type and number of wines offered. While tastings can occasionally be free, fees of $5-10 and up are also common, so be sure to keep this in mind when planning your trip. Of course, you’ll probably also want to bring home a couple bottles of your newest favorites, so set a budget ahead of time to avoid overspending, which can be all too easy to do, especially after you’ve been drinking.
3. Arrange for a Designated Driver
When going wine tasting, it’s always important to bring along a designated driver, especially since wine samples can sometimes be poured more heavily than expected and it’s also likely that you’ll want to visit more than one vineyard in the same day. Wine tasting is much more fun with a group of friends anyway, so round up some pals and have everyone chip in for a limo or shuttle. Just keep in mind that some vineyards do have reservation policies and restrictions when it comes to group tastings and commercial vehicles, so call ahead to double check before you go.
4. Remember to Eat
Wine tasting on an empty stomach is never a good idea, so bring along a variety of munchies to snack on throughout the day. Savory bites like crackers, olives and cheese are usually complementary with wines and therefore a popular choice, while super sweet items like cake or ice cream may best be avoided, unless you’re visiting a vineyard that serves wines specifically intended to accompany desserts. Some vineyards also have picnic areas available where you can enjoy a refreshing glass along with your snacks. Need something heartier to help get you through the day? Pack sandwiches or stop off at a local restaurant to ward off hunger.
5. Drink Plenty of Water
Wine tasting is no fun if you get sleepy, dehydrated or sick in the process, so be sure to continuously sip water before, during and after each tasting. When I go wine tasting, I always bring along a water bottle in the car and ask for a glass on the side at each place I visit. Getting a little tipsy is one thing, but getting sloppy drunk is a surefire way to spoil everyone’s fun.
6. Don’t Overdo It
With the allure of vineyards all around, it can be tough to limit yourself to just 2-3 wineries per day. Still, doing this is definitely a smart way to avoid burnout or drunkenness. Didn’t get to visit all of your must-try wineries? They’ll still be there next time, and it just gives you all the more reason to plan yet another trip out to wine country.
7. Try New Things
Yes, I know I said earlier that you should try to choose wineries that match up well with your personal preferences, but even so, don’t be afraid to also try new things once you’re there. I used to strongly prefer white wines, for example, but after visiting a winery that served some relatively light reds, I started drinking them more often and have since started to enjoy sipping much heartier varietals. Keep an open mind, and you just might be surprised by what you do and don’t end up liking.
Do you love visiting wineries, too? What are some of your own best wine-tasting tips?