Wine Tasting Etiquette

Heading out for a day of visiting wineries? Great! Here are a few wine tasting etiquette tips to know before you go.

wine tasting etiquette glassesFlights of wine await tasters in a Napa Valley tasting room. Photo © Delstudio

Wine Tasting Etiquette Tips

  • Make an appointment. Many tasting rooms in Napa Valley now require reservations, especially for groups. It's a good idea to check the winery's website for visiting hours and reservation requirements first. Take care not to over-schedule your day so you'll arrive on time.
  • Wait to be served. Napa Valley tasting rooms are often busy. Don't nudge your way up to the counter ahead of others and don't shout to get your server's attention. Be patient. Your experienced server will wait on you as soon as possible.
  • Don't wear perfume or cologne. Strong scents in the tasting room will overwhelm the subtle aromas of wine. It will be distracting to others around you as well and considered poor wine tasting etiquette.
  • Keep your voice at a conversational volume. You're at an educational event, not in a bar.
  • Silence your cell phone. It's discourteous to your server to take a call while he or she is talking to you. A ringing phone is also distracting to other visitors. Set your phone to vibrate, if you must, and excuse yourself from the tasting room if you need to take a call.
  • Spit out your wine. Yes, I know. Mom told you not to spit. But it's perfectly OK to do this at a wine tasting so you won't overindulge. Alcohol consumption will catch up with you and interfere with your ability to taste wine as you go down the list. There is a dump bucket on the counter in tasting rooms for unfinished wine. It's a good idea to use it.
  • Drink responsibly. Wine tasting at a single winery can make a person intoxicated...visit a few and you'll be schnockered before you know it. I can't emphasize this enough: Designate a driver before heading out. Drunk driving laws in California are strictly enforced for everyone's safety.

Wine Tasting Etiquette - Dress the Part

Wondering what to wear to winery tours and tastings?

You may have heard of Wine Country Casual... a term coined for this relaxed-yet-refined part of the country.

So what does that mean in today's world?

It wasn't that many years ago, Wine Country Casual meant daytime dresses, and khakis or slacks. But as we've become more casual at work (well, everywhere actually), visitors to Wine Country have brought their own chic style. Without trying to give you fashion advice, I'll reveal what I've seen in Napa Valley that's considered acceptable, along with a few practical tips.

Dress comfortably, yet sophisticated. Although nice jeans are a common sight most places, you'll want to take into consideration the upscale winery or posh event and dress appropriately. Some young women wear tight, short dresses, and a few websites will have you believe this is common. It's not... this isn't LA and you're not bar hopping; you may feel out of place dressed like this. Even at the most casual tasting rooms, tattered, ripped or worn out jeans won't fit in. And leave your favorite sports team shirt at home. Show respect for your winery hosts by wearing casually elegant clothes.

For women, nice jeans paired with a blouse and jacket, or a casual dress with a cardigan are appropriate. Womens trousers are back in style -- both comfortable and polished -- they are ideal for wine tasting in Napa Valley. In summer, I've seen women wear dressy capris or white jeans with stylish tops, and sundresses topped with jean jackets. 

Yeah, about those white jeans... keep in mind that a spilled drop of Cabernet may ruin your chic look, as well as those designer jeans. Consider wearing darker colors or patterns to play it safe.

For men, dark-wash denim or chinos are right at home here, as well as sweaters, button-downs and polo shirts. Nice shorts are becoming more common in the warm months, with short sleeved button-down shirts or polos.

Wear comfortable shoes, too. Depending on your tour, you may be walking into the vineyards, strolling through gardens, climbing stairs and walking across wet cave floors, stepping over hoses. High heels and flip-flops are not recommended.

Dress in layers. Whatever the season, you want to be comfortable all day. Even in summer, those wine caves can be downright chilly. You may be glad you brought a jacket or cardigan.

Thrifty Tips to Save Money

  • It's perfectly acceptable wine tasting etiquette to split a tasting with a friend. Just ask your server. You may not want to taste every wine on the list anyway...plus you'll share the wine tasting fee to boot.
  • Some wineries offer two-for-one wine tasting coupons. Your hotel concierge may have a few on hand. Don't be shy to ask about them.
  • Wine tasting fees are sometimes waived with a wine purchase. Be sure to ask your wine server.