How to Taste Wine Like a Pro

Photograph by FotoCuisinette via iStock

“As a winemaker, as soon as I see someone spitting in the tasting room, they get a ton more respect from me,” says Jordan Harris of Tarara Winery in Leesburg. “It’s a sure tell that the person is either in the trade, very responsible, more interested in taste than a buzz, or has been tasting many times before.”

Spitting is common in wine judging but rarely done in tasting rooms. To encourage it, Harris provides steel “spit cups.”

“You can experience the wine just fine without swallowing,” he says. “Take a sip, breathe in a little air, and swish it around.” Plus: “You’ll be able to drive legally, better taste the wines when you’re several in, and get more attention from the staff.”

Here are other tips for a winery visit.

1. Skip lipstick. It gums up glasses, so it’s a winery pet peeve. You don’t want to start off on the wrong foot.

2. Avoid heavy perfume or cologne. It can affect your ability—and that of those around you—to detect a wine’s bouquet.

3. Forget the Manolos. Stilettos on grass and gravel aren’t just a potential sprained ankle—if you’re unsteady on your feet, you could end up with an empty glass. Winery attendants are prohibited from serving patrons who appear drunk. One staffer jokes, “My favorite game: drunk or shoes?”

4. Bring ID. True, it’s unlikely a winery is a big destination for teens trying to sneak drinks, but more wineries are now carding.

5. Leave a tip—or not. Tip jars and credit-card tip lines are a new trend—and controversial. Some wineries permit them; some don’t. Pourers are paid, though often minimum wage. Leaving happy? Adding 10 to 20 percent to the tasting fee is a nice gesture.

Read more from our winery guide: 

This article appears in the May 2017 issue of Washingtonian.

Nancy Bauer

Nancy Bauer is founder of the popular Facebook group, Virginia Wine Love, and the website