A Guide to Wine Tasting Etiquette

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Wine being poured into a glass on an outdoor table

Whether you're new to the scene or you're an experienced wine taster, wine tasting events are the perfect opportunity to try a wide range of wines and pick out your personal favorites.

Tasting events will give you access to the broader world of wines—without having to invest in an entire bottle only to find it's not to your taste. But before you head to your next event, it's important to know the rules of etiquette in the tasting room or at the event venue.

It's not always clear what to do—or more importantly, what not to do—once you've arrived at a tasting. Here are some tips to help you master wine tasting etiquette.

Wine Tasting Events: The Basics

How do wine tastings work? What do you do at a wine tasting and what can you expect? Wine tastings are events designed to allow wine enthusiasts the opportunity to sample a wide range of different wines. These events can be more formal, where attendees are seated around a table. They can also be more casual, where attendees walk around and socialize with other guests.

Tastings aren't divided by experience. People of all levels of comfort and experience with wines will all be mingling at a tasting.

Especially in wine country, tastings are very popular with both tourists and locals. They allow you to override the limitations of just sampling wine at home. And, you won't have to commit to an entire bottle just to find out which ones you prefer.

Better yet, you can elevate your tasting experience by surrounding yourself with others. You'll learn from fellow tasters, exchange your thoughts about each wine, and make new connections with other wine enthusiasts.

Wine Tasting Etiquette: The Dos and Don'ts

If you're planning on attending a wine tasting, it's important that you feel confident and prepared. Before you start picking out your outfit and brushing up on your wine tasting terminology, there are a few rules you should know.

Here are some tips to help you enhance your palate and make the most of your tasting experience.

1. What to Wear

When it comes to etiquette for wine tastings, you don't want to dress too casually or too formally. Aim for something in the middle—comfortable, but casually elegant. Something that sets a sophisticated tone will help demonstrate respect for the event.

Be sure to keep your outfit acceptable for the venue. Tastings can be held in vineyards, restaurants, or outdoor festivals. Take into account the indoor or outdoor setting and the expected weather.

Try to avoid outfits with long, dangling accessories, as they could increase the chance of accidentally knocking over a glass or taking an unexpected dip into the spittoon (trust us, it happens!)

Another way to keep accidents at bay is to wear darker colors. You never know when wine could be spilled—darker colors will help disguise potential stains.

2. Use Your Nose

Always take a moment to smell the wine before you taste it. Wine tasting is just as much about smell as it is about taste. The tasting relies on you having a full sensory experience.

Although fragrances might fit the sophisticated nature of the event, perfume, cologne and after-shave should be avoided. Even scented lotions could interfere with the aroma of the wine—which can alter how the wine tastes.

3. Have a Plan

Whether it's a sit-down or walk-around tasting, the experience can get overwhelming quickly.

Make sure you have a plan when you walk through the door. Take your time tasting each wine, and don't try to taste everything at once.

You can even break up your tasting into categories to make it easier to digest. For example, try starting with just white wines or just wines from a certain region. Taste a few and try to note the differences between them. If winery representatives are present, ask questions to help you understand what you are tasting and why it differs from other similar wines from the same grape or region.

4. Cleanse Your Palate

To make the most of every tasting, always cleanse your palate between wines. Take a sip of some of the water that will be on hand.

You also might be offered crackers, grapes, cheese, or other snacks that you can eat during the tasting. Take small bites throughout to cleanse your palate and get your taste buds ready for the next wine.

5. Don't Be Afraid to Spit

Sometimes, you might want to spit. Whether you're the designated driver or you'd just prefer to keep a clear head, you can spit out the wine after tasting rather than swallowing. This is especially helpful if there are a large number of wines to be tasted and you'd like to try as many as possible.

You don't have to do this, but most winery staff will have buckets on hand for this very purpose.

In any case, it's best not to consume too much wine during the tasting. It can come across as rude if you drink too fast or become visibly inebriated. Feel free to spit when needed.

And if you come across a wine that doesn't strike your fancy, you can always dump the excess from your glass. Don't worry—it's not considered rude!

6. Mind Your Manners

Wine tastings are all about enjoying and discovering new wines in the company of others. But when it comes down to it, you're still a guest of the winery or event host.

Always save your loud and boisterous behavior for the bar. You can have fun and chat with other guests, but be sure to keep the conversations subtle and professional.

Also, be respectful of the host. Avoid talking too much about your knowledge of wine to other guests. Share your knowledge, and don't be afraid to ask questions, but always remember to take the time to just listen and take everything in.

The Bottom Line

A wine tasting is more than just a sophisticated event for wine lovers. It's a great way for you to narrow down your favorite wines—and discover new ones.

Once you've picked out your preferred wines, it's time to bring them home with you. At JJ Buckley Fine Wines, we can help you bring home the wines you loved the most and customize the best wine selection for your home.

Still not sure what wines you're leaning towards? Our consultancy services offer personalized attention to help you get even more out of your next wine tasting event.