5 Things to Know Before Wine Tasting

I know wine tasting can be intimidating if you’re new to wine or have never been to a tasting room before. Luckily, we tasting room workers are trained to tell you about the wine AND make you feel comfortable in the winery; if you’re an inexperienced wine taster, let us know, and we can explain it to you! We see a wide range of people in tasting rooms, from the person who is tasting for the first time to the person who grew up in Napa around wine and tasting rooms. However, there are some tips that are helpful to know ahead of time; here are 5 things you should know before you descend on the wineries!

  • 1. Tasting Fees. Most wineries have a tasting fee that’s waived with the purchase of a bottle. In Walla Walla, the standard fee is only $5*, but it’s much higher in California wine country. Each bottle purchased will waive one fee, unless your server likes you a lot. Beware large groups: buying one bottle when eight people are tasting will not waive all eight fees.

  • *The exception to this is Long Shadows, which has a $15 fee (but great wines and generous pours) or a nonrefundable $30 tasting fee with a tour and cheese plate.
  • 2. Tasting Lists. Wineries have an order in which they pour their wines, starting with whites, then lighter reds, heavier reds, and maybe a sweeter white, if they have one. Most places either have a list or a sign that indicates what they’ll be serving; you can skip wines if you’re certain you’ll dislike them, but I find that it’s educational and sometimes surprising to try everything! If you’re looking for a specific wine that the tasting room doesn’t have open, you can ask them to open it, but be prepared for them to say no, especially if it’s a slow day or a small winery. If you ask someone to open a bottle especially for you, it’s generally expected that you’re going to buy a bottle of it or are seriously considering buying it.

  • 3. Food at Wineries. People used to California tasting rooms will come in and ask about a winery restaurant; unlike California, Washington wineries rarely have restaurants attached (with the exception of Woodward Canyon, but even their restaurant is closed for the slow season). Some have cheeses and crackers for sale that they can plate for you (Waterbrook and Northstar), and Waterbrook also has fresh made tacos on Fridays and Saturdays. Lots of wineries do have picnic areas or patios, so you can bring your own food and have a glass or bottle of wine with your lunch! Be warned, though; it’s bad manners to open a bottle from a different winery than where you’re picnicking.

  • 4. The Dump Bucket. No, you don’t have to dump or spit your wine, but if you’re driving or trying to taste at a ton of wineries, you should take advantage of it. Take at least two sips of each taste (one to acclimate your tongue to the new wine and one to really taste it) and dump the rest. If you’d like to spit, ask the server for a cup, rather than spitting straight into the bucket. That way, you’re less likely to spit wine all over yourself, and trust me, it does happen!

  • 5. Tipping. Tipping in the wine industry is all over the place. Not too long ago, it would have been understood that no one was expected to tip for a wine tasting; these days, it’s a little more complicated. My view of it: If you’re getting food or sitting on the patio being waited on, tip as if it were a bar or lounge. Your server is working extra hard to make your experience fun and easy for you. If you’re a demanding customer (sending your server back and forth for things, asking for special treatment, etc), it’s also nice to leave a little something. Some wineries don’t allow employees to accept tips; they will explain this, and you don’t have to push it. If you’re just there to taste the wine, then tipping is not expected or necessary!

Go forth and taste wine!

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