(This column originally appeared in the 4/15/05 issue of Dan's Papers)
Spring is here and now that we’ve all at least started our spring yard work, it’s time to put aside our chores and relieve some of that cabin fever we’ve all been feeling. I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I think there’s no better way to enjoy a spring afternoon than a trip to the wineries.
Whether you’re new to visiting winery tasting rooms or a seasoned vet, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your trip.
Choose a Designated Driver. Sure, the samples you’ll be drinking are small, usually an ounce or so, but they do add up. Decide who’s going to drive before you head to the first winery. Don’t assume that “someone will be sober enough to drive” at the end of the day. Nothing ruins a great day at the wineries like a DWI arrest, or worse.
If you don’t want to designate a driver, hire one of the limo or bus companies to drive you around.
Don’t Try to Visit Every Winery. Again, those little wine pours add up. Choose three or four wineries that you’d like to try and take your time at each one. Wine tasting is about more than just the wine. Rushing because you want to visit every winery on the North Fork in one day takes away from the experience. Don’t do it.
Bring a Picnic Lunch. One of the things I enjoy most about a winery afternoon is having a picnic lunch among the vines. Many wineries have beautiful patios or decks where you can spread out and have a great lunch. But, if you’re going to drink wine with lunch, make sure it’s from the winery where you’re eating. In most cases, they’ll even lend you glasses. It’s rude to drink wine from another winery on someone else’s property.
Don’t Wear Perfume or Cologne. This might just be a pet peeve of mine, but if I’m tasting a winery’s newly released Merlot, I want to be able to smell the berry aromas with subtle hints of cocoa…not the cologne the guy next to me has drowned himself in. You’ve met that guy. I know you have. Be considerate.
Speak Up and Ask Questions. Once you’re bellied up to the wine bar, don’t just quietly drink what they pour for you. The people pouring the wines are passionate about them and have a lot to offer. Again, a winery visit is about the full experience, not just the wines. And, if you get lucky, they may just pour you something special that isn’t on the usual tasting menu. Get to know these people, they’ll remember you the next time you visit.
Don’t Drink Wines You Don’t Like. If you take that first sip of a reserve Chardonnay and it’s just too oaky and buttery for your taste, don’t finish it. Every tasting bar has a dump bucket for just this reason. It’s okay to skip any of the wines on the tasting list too. If you want to just taste a particular varietal or just reds or whites, you can do that.
Bring Friends and Have Fun. I always say that wine is something best enjoyed with friends. Get a group together and have a great time (with a designated driver, of course.) But remember that you aren’t the only people out there. Try not to be too loud or annoying. It ruins the atmosphere for everyone else.
Buy a Bottle to Take Home…If There’s One You Like. Some people say you absolutely need to buy at least one bottle of wine at each winery. That’s ridiculous. Never feel pressured to do so. Of course, if there’s a wine you really love, why wouldn’t you want to take some home?
Remember, wineries want you to have a great time so that you’ll come back again and again, not feel guilty and never return.