September and October are great months for that day-outing in the country — especially wine country. Summer crowds are dwindling, the weather is slightly cooler, and, most importantly, it’s harvest time for wine grapes. What a great opportunity to see firsthand how the nectar of the grape is created.
Here are some guidelines to getting the most out of your winery visits:
- Plan ahead.
Try to pick wineries that are close together so you won’t be driving back and forth. Three to four wineries per day is more than enough. If possible, choose a second one that has a restaurant attached where you can lunch without having to look around for some place to chow down. Then, do another one or two wineries in the afternoon.
- Try to choose large and small wineries.
This allows you to get a good perspective of how a larger operation compares to a smaller one.
- If you plan on swallowing what you taste, have a designated driver or take a bus tour.
- If you’re driving, spit, spit, spit!
If you don’t, after a couple samples, the alcohol will kick in and deciphering any nuances in the wine will go out the window. All tasting rooms provide spittoons; make use of them.
- Take a cooler along.
This is great for storing purchased wines so they don’t cook in your car. It’s also perfect for storing bottled water so you don’t get dehydrated.
- Avoid wearing strong smells.
No one wants to be picking up smells of Chanel No. 5 or Polo in the wines at the winery.
- Wear dark clothes.
If you spill some wine on them, it won’t look terrible.
- Go early, if possible.
Wineries’ tasting rooms are far less busy on weekdays and in the mornings. Although the thought of putting wine in your mouth in the morning may seem questionable, your palate is at the freshest and most sensitive then.
- Avoid palate fatigue.
Take lots of breaks and remember the correct order of tasting wines — dry to sweet, white to red, unoaked to oaky, light-bodied to full-bodied, and low alcohol to higher alcohol.
- Experiment with different varietals and wine styles.
This is a great opportunity for you to try wines you are not familiar with.
- Make tasting notes in a notebook.
No matter how great your memory is, after a number of wines, you simply won’t remember which winery had that dynamite chardonnay you tasted.
- Ask questions.
Winery folk love to chat about their wines. Inquire as to how their cabernet differs from their neighbors’ and what food it might work with.
- Eat breakfast and nibble often.
Far less alcohol is absorbed on a full stomach.
- Clean your palate between wines.
Sips of water and bites of crackers or dry bread will keep your palate refreshed so the flavors of one wine won’t spill over onto the next.
- Add your name to a mailing list.
Most wineries have mailing lists. This way, you can be notified of any new wines coming from wineries you really like, long before they are available to the general public.
- Know when to pack it in.
When your teeth, gums and lips are stained purple, it’s time to call it quits. Alternately, if you find yourself dancing the rumba, naked, in the winery’s fountain, you’d better stop.
Edward Finstein is an award-winning author, TV/ radio host, renowned wine journalist, international wine judge, professor of wine, and consultant. Learn more at winedoctor.ca.