Going it alone with your own itinerary and a fistful of maps, or using the guidance of a tour company specializing in wine tours, you are in for a special treat. One thing to remember is that you do NOT have to be a wine aficionado to enjoy a tour. It is, after all, a learning experience. You will come away with knowledge of not only the wines and wineries, but the people, culture, customs, history, climate, landscape, etc. of your destination.

How long will your journey be? You can easily visit a sole winery in an afternoon, or devote an entire week to enjoying a particular wine area. There are great choices in the U.S., including California, Michigan, Oregon, and the lakes regions of Erie and Niagara.

International travel destinations might find you in France, Italy, Australia, Spain or Germany, and will probably take up the bulk of two weeks. For these endeavors, it is recommended you enlist the help of an agency, as they will include small breaks that will allow you to visit other, non-wine-related tourist destinations you might otherwise miss.

A host will greet you with several wine samples (starting with dry whites, to the reds, ending with sweet dessert wines) as you enter the tasting room. As he/she pours, they will describe the smell and taste. Smell the wine before drinking. (You are hoping for scents of flowers, fruit, oak, vanilla, toast — not vinegar, prunes or cough syrup.)  Take a small sip and let it spread throughout your mouth, concentrating on the flavors, comparing what you taste to his description.

Do you swallow it, or spit it out? Either is acceptable, neither should feel awkward. (Awkward comes in after you’ve tasted twenty wines in a day, and swallowed them all!) If spitting, do so neatly in the bucket provided.

Take note of the color, holding the glass to the light. If it appears a bright, clean color, you are holding a quality wine. (Cloudiness or debris in the glass is not only unattractive, but denotes a wine of diminished quality. There are, however, some exceptions.) Tilt the glass to see the side. Younger wines will be color consistent throughout. Older wines lose color, becoming translucent close to the rim.

Sampling is the biggest part of any winery tour. Samples are usually at no cost. If you request a specialty sample, be prepared to pay a stipend. If a certain wine intrigues you, it’s fine to request a second sample of it. However, protocol is that if you ask for seconds, you are expected to purchase a bottle.

Do not comment aloud unless specifically asked to do so. If you do not care for a certain wine, you may discretely pour the contents of your glass into the spit bucket.

Reasonable questions are always welcome, as are compliments and purchases! Enjoy!!

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Tracie Burket
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