by Laurie L. Ross

Spokane’s wineries are gearing up for their annual Spring Barrel Tasting. A record nineteen Spokane wineries will open their doors Mother’s Day weekend, May 11-13 from 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. In some cases you’ll get the chance to try wine directly from barrels or tanks. In preparation, we wanted to share tips on how to navigate winery tasting rooms. Special thanks are due to Jill Rider of Townshend Cellar and Sip of Spokane Facebook followers for several of the contributions here:
Upon arrival, head for the tasting bar. A host will greet you and get you started with wine glasses and explain what wines are available for tasting and if there are any tasting fees.Tasting rooms vary from the very elaborate to a simple table set up in the wine making area.White wines are usually tasted first, followed by red wines, and then dessert wines. Most wineries will have a sheet of tasting notes. Read the tasting notes as you taste and see if you notice any of the aromas or flavors listed in the notes.
Take notes about what you thought about the wine. Your opinion is the only one that really matters. If it’s not your favorite, be polite. If you like it, tell the host. If there are choices to be made for tasting they can help you based on that feedback.
It is okay to skip wines on the tasting list. Some people just want to taste the whites; some the reds. Some may be interested in tasting only certain varietals.
Normally you would not ask for a second taste of a particular wine unless you indicate that you are interested in purchasing the wine.
You do not have to drink all the wine in your glass. Toss the unwanted wine in your glass into the dump bucket provided for this purpose. It’s not considered rude. In fact, it’s responsible not to overdo it. Remember, it’s hip to spit. You’ll notice some wine tasters even spit after a sip. Depending on how much you are tasting, it may be a necessity.
If water is provided, use it to clear your palate or to rinse your glass. Rinsing the glass is a good idea when the tasting moves from whites to reds or to dessert wines. Some wineries discourage rinsing with water as it can affect the next wine and they’ll insist on rinsing it for you with a little wine.
Sometimes a neutral food will be provided, such as plain crackers. The purpose of the food is to clear the palate after tasting each particular wine. It’s not for a light snack.
Some tasting rooms will require that you pay a fee to taste the wine. A number of wineries apply this fee to a purchase. Others might include a souvenir glass with the fee. Some tasting rooms have a two-tier fee, one for the main line of wines and one for reserve wines.
When a fee is charged, it is usually okay for two people to share one glass and pay only one tasting fee. Just don’t expect a larger pour.
If you are visiting a winery with friends or a group, try not to be loud. It ruins the atmosphere of the tasting room. Wineries in Washington cannot serve anyone who appears intoxicated, whether they’re driving, or not.
Some people feel guilty if they don’t buy at least one bottle of wine. Never feel you must purchase any wine. Buy the wine if you like it.
If the weather is warm, do not store your wine in the car. Bring an insulated bag so the wine doesn’t get overheated.
If you picnic at the winery, make sure the wine is not from another winery. That’s a faux pas. If you forgot to bring wine glasses, most tasting rooms will lend you wine glasses for your picnic, especially if you purchase wine.
Bringing children to a winery can be tricky. Have a planned activity for them while you spend your time tasting, or, if possible, choose to have your wine time without them.
Avoid wearing personal scents of any kinds. Serious wine tasters find them distracting when differing bouquets and flavors. Chewing gum and mints are also no-nos.
Be aware of other people in the tasting room. Be courteous. Do not monopolize the host or winemaker and let others approach the tasting bar as well.
Laurie L. Ross is a freelance writer and author of the local wine blog Sip of Spokane (sipofspokane.com)
Published in Spokane Coeur d'Alene Living magazine, March 2012