Wine Etiquette FAQs: The Wine Tasting Edition

By Etty Lewensztain, Wine Expert for
Photo credit: AndyRoberts

2012-01-17-winetasting.jpgWine etiquette has come a long way. In the first installment of wine etiquette FAQs, I wrote about the dos and don'ts of drinking wine in restaurants, covering everything from sniffing corks and sending wine back when it's spoiled, to bringing your own bottle and letting the sommelier pre-screen your wine for flaws.

This second edition in the Wine Etiquette FAQ series is all about the rules of the game when sipping vino at wine tasting events. Read on to learn about when to spit or swallow, how to control your alcohol intake at large wine tastings, and which wine tasting faux pas you should avoid at all costs.

Should I swallow or spit wine at a wine tasting event? Is it considered vulgar to spit the wine out? Will the vendor be offended if I spit out their wine?
It is perfectly acceptable to swallow the wine at a wine tasting event. If you're spending a leisurely afternoon tasting wine with friends, either at a seated seminar-style wine tasting or at a walk-around event, by all means, don't feel compelled to spit out a wine if you like it.

At the same time, it is also completely acceptable, and not considered vulgar or offensive at all, to spit a wine out into a spittoon if you don't care for it, or if you're trying to control your alcohol intake. Vendors and winery representatives completely understand that you can't possibly swallow all the wines you encounter at a tasting.

When wine professionals attend trade tastings, they are almost always expected to spit the wine out, unless a meal is being served alongside the wines, but the rules are very different for consumers.

Is it appropriate to ask for my own spitting receptacle at a wine tasting event or am I expected to use the communal spittoons?
Most large scale walk-around wine tasting events will only have communal spit buckets, AKA spittoons, available for dumping and spitting wine out, and won't offer individual receptacles. Smaller seated tastings or food and wine pairing classes will often have small paper cups or other small individual spittoons on hand for spitting.

Public wine tasting events often have hundreds, even thousands of wines available for tasting. How do you navigate the selections so that you can still manage to drive home?
There are two keys to making it out in one piece after a long afternoon of tasting wine. First, eat plenty of food either before or during the tasting to make sure you're not drinking on an empty stomach. This may seem very obvious, but people seem to forget about food when they're faced with 500 bottles of wine. Second, swallow only the wines you really like and spit out all the others. You'll be amazed at how much alcohol you'll be spared by being a bit choosy with what you actually swallow.

Large walk-around tastings can be very overwhelming in terms of the sheer quantity of wines on offer. Do you have insider advice on how to strategically tackle a large wine tasting?
You definitely can't taste everything at a wine tasting event, so having a plan of attack is crucial. Try dividing the tasting by type or style of wine and only taste wines that fit into that category. This will help edit your selection considerably.

For instance, only taste white wines, or only taste red wines. To refine the selection even further, taste only pinot noirs, or taste only syrahs. Not only will this help control the quantity of wines you'll be tasting, but you'll also get a great education on the various styles of wine that can be made from a single grape.

If the tasting offers a broad international selection, you might also want to try focusing on one particular region -- say, wines from California, or wines from Italy.

What are some of the worst faux pas committed at wine tasting events?
The most common faux pas at tasting events is plain and simply people who drink too much and don't know when to quit. Sloppy drunks are a dime a dozen at wine tasting events, so try using the techniques suggested above to control the amount of wine you actually consume.

Believe it or not, I've actually seen people try and stuff unopened bottles of wine that were used for vendor displays into their bags! Stealing wine at a wine tasting event is, needless to say, not the best idea.

Related Links from Menuism:
Wine Etiquette FAQs: The Restaurant Edition
3 White Wines for Red Wine Drinkers
9 Offbeat White Wines to Try Now
The Many Faces of a Grape: Demystifying Zinfandel
The Optimal Serving Temperature for Your Favorite Wines

Wine Etiquette FAQs: The Wine Tasting Edition originally published on The Menuism Blog.

Etty Lewensztain is the owner of Plonk Wine Merchants, an online shop focused on small-production, artisanal and altogether great cheap wine. The food- and wine-obsessed Los Angeles native cut her teeth in the wine biz running a marketing campaign to promote Chilean wine in the U.S., and is certified by the esteemed Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and the American Sommelier Association. Plonk Wine Merchants specializes in hidden gems from around the globe and every bottle in the store is priced below $30. Follow Plonk Wine Merchants on Twitter @PlonkOnline.