Plan your visits: Visit wineries clustered together, and visit no more than three to five a day: two in the morning, one that has a restaurant attached for lunch and one or two in the afternoon. That leaves you time to taste and talk. Go to both small and large places to get a sense of the range of wines produced.
Designate a driver: If you refuse to spit, you need to pick a designated driver who won't imbibe.
Take a cooler: Pack a picnic lunch in a cooler, and then you'll have a place to store the wines that you buy, so they don't cook in the trunk. But many wineries will ship to your home97so think twice before lugging those bottles around: a case of 12 weighs 37 pounds. If you do buy a bottle, get one that's only available at the winery97and ask the vintner to sign it.
Drive a comfy car: A car with reclining seats and clouded glass is ideal for those between-winery naps in parking lots. Even better, rent a stretch limo or take a wine tour.
Avoid strong smells: Perfume, cologne and aftershave all interfere with the wine aromas, so skip them when you're going to taste.
Wear dark clothing: Even if you're an expert spitter, the person next to you might not be. Avoid wearing t-shirts that read "Gonna drink myself stupid!"
Call ahead: If your favourite winery isn't open to the public, call to ask if you can drop by anyway. Many will welcome fans by appointment.
Go early: Tasting rooms are much less crowded in the mornings before lunch, and less packed on weekdays than weekends. And even though cabernet at 10am may not sound appealing, your palate is at its best in the morning.
Avoid tour buses: If you see a bus in the winery parking lot, come back later. (Also avoid people in polyester suits wearing stickers that say "Hi! My name is
Spit: Spitting is an acceptable part of tasting room etiquette. In North America, we associate spitting with crudeness and great gobs of wet tobacco. Europeans, however, are completely uninhibited about spitting97as they are about nude bathing and May-December sexual liaisons. The French call it recracher, and they have no qualms about doing it in the vineyard, down drains, or even on the barrel room floor. (But don't think it's a mark of European sophistication to spit on a floor that's finished in bird's eye maple or Persian carpets. Look for the spit buckets.)
The art of spitting (or expectorating, if you prefer) can be comfortably mastered at home. Start in the shower, then move to the bathroom sink, and finally, when you're ready to work without a net, graduate to the dining room table. The technique is simple: when you've finished tasting your wine, suck in your cheeks, purse your lips into a slightly open O, lean forward and expel a steady stream into the bucket. It's considered bad form to dribble, spray or ricochet.
Taste and savour: Tasting several wines is not only fun, it's instructive: you can compare different styles when you try them side by side. (Of course, you can do this at home, but it's expensive to open four bottles or more bottles at once.) Begin with light, dry white wines; progress to full-bodied reds; and finally, try sweet wines.
Experiment: Try wines you've never tasted before, widen your range, surprise yourself. Ask the tasting room staff which wine the vintner is best-known for.
Take a notebook: It doesn't make you a wine nerd to want to remember the wines you've tasted.
Ask questions: Unless they're swamped with visitors, most tasting room personnel love to chat about their wines and the region. Start by asking how their wine differs from that of nearby wineries, and which dishes it would go well with.
Eat: be sure to have breakfast before you go, and take a snack for on the road97food helps to absorb the alcohol. Eating bland crackers between sips will also keep your palate from getting overloaded. Avoid eating garlic and spicy food at lunch; wait until the tasting over.
Drink water: One effect of even just tasting alcohol is that you get dehydrated. Pack several bottles of water in the car, and take a swig often.
Take the kids: Most wineries are set in beautiful country locations where children can play outdoors. And even if the kids aren't drinking for a few more years, they can still be fascinated by these grape farms, and the process of making wine. Just keep them away from any breakables in the tasting room, and from the farm equipment outside. Don't press any red buttons no matter how tempting.
Ask to be added to the mailing list: Some wineries produce such small quantities of wine that you need to be part of their loyal customer base to buy any. A visit to the winery is a great time to express your interest. (But avoid the approach of taking out a thick wad of bills, fanning under the owner's nose and asking, "Whaddaya got that's good and pricey?")
Call it quits: How to tell when you should head back to the hotel? Your teeth are stained dark purple or you find yourself swimming in the landscaped fountain in front of the winery.
Reprinted with permission from Natalie MacLean's free wine e-mail newsletter at www.nataliemaclean.com.