A few years ago while watching the movie Sideways, le monsieur and I were absolutely floored by the quantities of wine the characters in the movie were drinking. I joked that I had a contact headache by the end of one dinner scene where, if I recall correctly, four people went through four or five bottles of wine. Now, une femme loves her vins, just to be clear. But these days, a glass or glass-and-a-half is about my limit in any six hour period without risking a headache or lousy night's sleep. But even given my physiological constraints, I was able to enjoy quite a bit of wine tasting with no ill effects by just being mindful and following some simple steps.
First, most wineries/tasting rooms charge for a round of tasting; anywhere between $10 and $25 seemed to be the going rates. Most folks will pour one ounce per taste, and if you multiply by 3-5 wines per winery and 4-5 wineries per day, one can easily consume 4-5 glasses of wine without realizing it. Le monsieur and I almost always split a tasting, meaning one glass between us. Most of the time, we ended up dumping a good bit of each taste, though there were a handful that were just SO good that we finished the one ounce between the two of us.
Second, many of the characteristics of any given wine will be apparent in the nose. Sniff three times for every one taste. Swirl the wine in the glass a bit to break it up, then stick your nose right down into the glass and inhale. See what aromas present. Floral, plums, berries, grapefruit, peppers? Then sniff again. What else can you discern? Sniff a third time, and then a small sip. Don't swallow right away, hold in your mouth and let the flavors develop. "Chew" or slurp a little if you're feeling adventurous. Swallow, then wait. What is the "finish" of the wine? Swirl and sniff some more if you need to. Then, unless your socks are royally and truly knocked off, dump the rest in the buckets provided. No one will be offended, I promise.
Professional wine tasters will spit their tastes rather than swallow. For most public wine tasting venues, this isn't really an option, so small sips are key. You can get as much of a read on a wine from a tiny slurp as a big mouthful.
You may be tempted, but don't rinse your glass with water between tastes. The water will dilute the wine and impact the flavor. But do nibble on a bite of something bland like a cracker or bread, or rinse your mouth with water between tastes if that's all that's available to clear your palate.
Speaking of water, it's REALLY good idea to carry plenty or water with you, and try to drink 8 oz. or so after each round of tasting. Staying hydrated will also help stave off headaches. Stop for lunch, and eat something with some fat and protein that will help slow down absorption of any alcohol.
Don't feel obligated to buy bottles of wine or join wine clubs. You WILL get the sales pitch. You're probably paying for the tasting, so even if the wine guy or gal pulls out the "special" bottle of the Super Exclusive Vintage WooWoo Estate Reserve and pours some while saying "sshhh, don't tell my boss I gave you this," don't let yourself be guilted into buying wine that you don't really want or is out of your price range. If you drink wine regularly and find something you love that isn't readily available in your area, wine clubs can be a good option, and save you some money. If you do decide to buy some bottles of wine on the spot, most places will ship to you. Some charge more than others, and depending on how much you're buying in one location it may make more sense to just take the bottles with you and stop at a UPS shipper on your way home, unless you're driving rather than flying and don't anticipate being in the heat for extended periods of time. (Don't leave wine in a hot car!)
Remember that the "best" wine is the one YOU like, and trust your tastes. Just because everyone else's eyes are rolling back in their heads in ecstasy over that Sauvignon Blanc and to you it tastes like library paste doesn't mean that your palate is wrong. Even the "experts" disagree about wines.
And finally, if you're tasting, have someone else do the driving!!! Designate a non-drinking driver, or take a guided tour.
Tomorrow, some of the highlights of our winery tours and tastings.