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Wine Tasting Etiquette 101

Wine tasting experience at Shadybrook Estate Winery in Napa

Summer may officially be over, but harvest season has just begun and that’s good news for wine lovers. From harvest celebrations to grape stomping parties, October is prime time to hit the wine road and explore one of the 9,000 wineries across the U.S.

Planning your viticultural adventure is the easy part, knowing the tasting room dos and don’ts takes some practice. With help from our friends at CellarPass — a Yelp partner for booking winery tours, tastings and special events — we’ve compiled 8 tips for mastering wine tasting room etiquette.

1) Research & Reserve — Many tasting rooms operate on a drop-in basis, but it’s worth the effort to research any special experiences available by reservation like food & wine pairings, grape-stomping demos, even blend-your-own wine workshops. “Many wineries offer unique tours and tastings, but have limited space,” says Sarah Elliman of CellarPass. Plan ahead for the most memorable — and photo-worthy — visit.

Raymond Vineyards in St Helena, California

2) The Law of Three — As with most things in grown-up life, moderation is key. Visiting three wineries in one day is ambitious but doable, if you want to have quality tasting time at each spot. “Nothing is worse than being rushed to get through your wine tasting,” says Elliman. 

3) Go Natural — Some people take wine tasting pretty seriously, so follow the social rules and steer clear of scents. “No fragrance of any kind should be worn while wine tasting,” says Stephanie Smith, tasting room manager at Seghesio Family Vineyards in Healdsburg, CA. “This includes perfume, cologne, lotions, body spray, or scented hair products.  Coffee and gum are also items that should be avoided as they affect your nose and palate.”

Benovia Winery in Santa Rosa, California

4) Don’t Be Afraid to Dump — Wondering if you have to finish every drop of buttery Chard that’s poured for you? You don’t. Dumping the stuff you don’t love is perfectly acceptable when wine tasting. “Not everyone can finish the four to five tastes that are poured, and you shouldn’t feel you need to finish anything you don’t enjoy,” says Nicole Kosta, a certified sommelier and Director of Events at Benovia Winery in Santa Rosa.

5) Water for the Win — All tasting rooms should offer water, but it never hurts to have your own stash to keep hydrated between winery visits. Same goes for snacks, as you may not find food beyond crackers or breadsticks in the tasting room.

Charcuterie platter at Seghesio Family Vineyards in Healdsburg

6) Don’t Be A Fashion Victim– when in wine country, you never know when you could find yourself frolicing through vines or touring an olive grove. Dress for the (rustic) adventure. “Some of the best wineries have gravel roads and non-stiletto friendly environments. Be smart and pack a pair of flats just in case,” Elliman of CellarPass advises.  “You’d hate to turn down an impromptu invitation from the winemaker to do some barrel tasting in the cellar…right? Also, it may seem obvious but most wine tasting happens at a bar, standing up, so you’ll want comfy shoes to be on your feet all day.

The rustic terrain at McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma, CA

7) Tipping Optional — Unlike drinking at a bar, sipping at a tasting room does not require tipping. Though it’s a nice gesture if your host has spent a good amount of time with you or provided 5-star service. In that case, “a tip of $5 per taster would be more than generous and appreciated,” Kosta says.

8) Keep it Classy: Tempting as it may be to get saucy from all those sips “don’t say you are drunk, even jokingly, as the law says we cannot serve someone who is drunk,” tips Kosta. And if you do plan on swallowing every taste you’re served, designate a driver or hire a service. “You do not want your memories of wine country to be about how nice the police officer at the station was,” says Elliman of CellarPass.

Find more tasting inspiration on Yelp, and start bookmarking your perfect itinerary. From Texas Hill Country to the Finger Lakes, Oregon’s Willamette Valley down to Santa Barbara, the Yelp community can point you to a 5-star day in wine country.