10 Tips for Public Wine Tasting

by Joy Neighbors
Photo courtesy of Mackinaw Valley Vineyard

With the arrival of summer comes a slew of wine festivals and other wine tasting events held at wineries, wine shops, grocery stores, and sometimes even convenience stores! All of these venues offer an excellent opportunity to explore a variety of new and different wines. Here are ten tips to help you sip and savor like a pro.

1) Eat Before You Go
Yes, there may be food offered, but those small samples are not intended to make a meal. Taste them in combination with the wine and discover what goes with the food… and what you’re not crazy about. That should help spark more pairing ideas. As an added bonus, these nibbles assist in absorbing alcohol, so tasters can enjoy the event without getting tipsy.

2) Be Comfortable
If it’s an outside event, wear something cool and comfortable. No tottering heels—too easy to fall after an afternoon of wine tasting. And nothing white, unless you don’t mind getting wine stains on it. (Yes, I know you’re very careful, but the guy tasting next to you? Probably not so much.)

3) Leave the Scents at Home
That means no heavy perfumes or aftershave lotions. (Need I even mention, no smoking?) This also includes chewing gum, indulging in a garlic-and-anchovies pizza, heavy insect repellant and chewing tobacco. (We know who you are when you say that all of the wines taste like mint.)

4) BYOB (of Water)
When attending a wine festival, be sure to take bottled water along. You may not feel dehydrated, but the best “drinking rule” to remember is to have a glass of water for every glass of wine consumed. It’s also perfect to cleanse your palate with after each wine, so the flavors are fresh with each taste.

5) Step Away From the Bar
If there are people behind you, move away from the pouring station after you’ve received a sample. Wine lovers are affable people—as long as you don’t keep us waiting unnecessarily for our wine! Just remember: don’t hog the pouring table, and don’t cut in line, and you should be fine.

6) Questions, Questions
Ask questions, but please make them relevant to the wine and not just chitchat. This is your opportunity to speak with the wine maker, wine shop manager or someone who knows something about the wines they’re pouring. Tell the server what you like; he or she may have a suggestion or an idea that gives you more avenues to consider when shopping for wine.

7) Read Those Notes
If tasting notes are available, read the wine’s description before you sample. Can you taste the flavors described, or do you get something different? Make a note of what you tasted and the impressions you gleaned. Some wine tasters have a designated notebook in which to write their perceptions. Later, discuss your findings with friends who also tried the wine.

8) Special Deals
Many times, wine shops and grocery stores will offer special prices and discounts on the wines sampled out. Usually six bottles or a case (12 bottles) of wine are eligible for a discount, around 10 to 12 percent. You might be able to coax the server into a five-percent discount on one or two bottles not offered for sampling, just as an initiative to take wine home. It never hurts to ask, and you may score some great deals!

9) Be Prepared
Take your own wine carrier bags. (This is especially wise at wine shows.) Although you’ve decided to only buy six wines, once you get there and start tasting, six can become 12—or even 24 bottles—very quickly. At a large event or festival, empty wine boxes may be hard to find because everyone needs one, so go prepared.

10) Remember the 3 E’s
For maximum enjoyment at any adult libation event, remember to explore, experience and enjoy! That’s what it’s all about! a&s

Joy Neighbors is a writer and performer with more than a dozen years of experience as a winery owner.


Kickoff to Summer: Wine, Beer & Spirits Tasting
On May 20, 2017, UFS Downtown Outlet Center will host its annual summer kickoff tasting from 2 to 5pm—one of its largest tastings of the year. And it’s free! For more information, call (309) 673-4503.

International Music, Wine and Craft Beer Festival
On May 27-28, 2017, Mackinaw Valley Vineyard will feature more than 50 wines and 50 craft beers for tasting and purchase—plus food concessions, an artisan cheese sampling, and music performances throughout the day. In addition, the tasting room is open daily through September. Call (309) 359-WINE or visit mackinawvalleyvineyard.com.

Kickapoo Creek Winery
Sample delicious wines, enjoy a chef-prepared lunch, and browse a selection of gourmet cheeses, jellies and various gift items in the Kickapoo Creek Winery Tasting Room, open Tuesday through Sunday. Call (309) 495-9463, Ext. 3 for reservations, or visit kickapoocreekwinery.com.

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