Dos and Don’ts of group wine tastings. My thoughts.

I’ll put it out there, wine tastings are hit or miss. With a hit, you learn a bunch, feel a little buzzed and perhaps even have a magical moment. With a miss, you just feel like shit. After forking out a bunch of cash, you’d probably rather have the first experience. Right? You are probably there to build your wine knowledge and share some of it with your pals next weekend. Or, you might be traveling and wanting to jump inside the local culture, to see things a little differently. Whatever the reason for signing up, I’m sure your intentions are good! 

Tokaj tasting in Paris in January. The wine was nice, but the tasting left me bored and confused.

Since 2014, wherever I travel, I aim to partake in a local wine tasting. It’s my thing. Seeing the major tourist sites is great and all, but I am more excited by the idea of chatting with a local who likes the same things as more. Ok, a local who likes wine. For me, it is this type of interaction that elevates my travel experience and makes it more personal.

Paris is no exception. Wow, Paris, a city of fantastic wines and wine experts. Sure. Does that mean that all tasting experiences will be as wonderful? I love Paris, but the truth is, no. Not all tastings are amazing. Be careful. A recent tasting experience in Paris made me think. How can one of the world’s capitals of wine knowledge get it so wrong? What happened here? In an attempt to keep my thoughts organised, I have broken down my personal ‘dos and don’ts’ of wine tastings. Hopefully you can use these as a guide for shaping your own wine tasting one day. If so, you had better invite me ha (SVP)!

Alors, let’s get the bad out of the way. 

Dont’s. 

In-depth history : Don’t get me wrong, I love learning the background and traditions of the wineries I visit. That’s a major reason for visiting! However, when the host is talking for 30+ minutes about the family history before anything else, it is hard to keep track of which generation did what. Short and sweet historical intros are the dream.

Assume everyone has the same level of wine knowledge : As with all conversations, assuming that the people you are talking with have the same level of info as you is a big no no. Taking a moment to check in with the group at the get go will let you know where everyone is at. This simple tip levels the playing field and can remove a big awkward weight. You want to know that the people you are sharing the experience with actually understand what you are talking about. Otherwise, you will leave a few people feeling confused and inferior. If nothing else, that’s a bad tripadvisor review in the making.

Assume everyone can speak the language : This one is mostly relevant for travel based tastings. Trust me, it is a lot more difficult to enjoy a tasting when it’s not in your mother tongue.

Rush over the wines : The point of a wine tasting is to explore new wines. Simple. Skipping over the wines and just pouring with no introduction is a huge let down. How are the guests supposed to know what they are tasting if it is just placed in front of them? Not everyone is an MW! So, taking the time to run through the terroir, grape, winemaking and even personal opinion of the wine acts as a safe starting point for guests to shape their opinions. Let the wine be the star.

Have an awkward ending : Make sure the group knows the experience has wrapped up and that you are available for any further questions. Outside of that, ‘thanks so much for coming and have a nice day!’ Standing around awkwardly isn’t fun for anyone and can leave a bad taste in the group’s mouth. The only thing they should be left with on the palate is the wine! Keep it short, sweet and to the point.

Phew. I’ll leave the potentially disappointing ‘don’ts’ there for now. Onto the good! The sweet stuff.

Information, palate cleansers and delish wine made for an enjoyable tasting in Alsace a few months ago.

Dos.

Limit group size / set in a nice comfortable and quiet location : With the right basics in place, you can build an enjoyable and memorable experience. Make sure the guests stay focused on the wines by taking care of the surroundings. By the third wine, you will be instant best friends. Trust me.

Warm and welcoming introduction : Ooze passion and get excited about the tasting. Your energy will transfer to the group and (each group member can talk through why they are there)

Have a palate cleanser and water available : A little cracker makes a big difference! Progressing between different levels of tannin can leave the mouth needing a break. Pop a bottle of water and a simple cracker or bread bowl in the middle, and you are good to go.

Provide pens, paper : People might want to take notes, you never know! Having the extra touch will let the group know that things are taken seriously, but no pressure of course. Personally, I only take notes when I know there is an exam coming up. Eek, when is my next exam?! ha

Introduce each wine independently : Tasting wine is a social experience (remember, with your new wine loving best friends). Presenting the wines as the central topic and opening the floor to conversation will give the tasting a natural flow. After the basics are out there and guests have tasted their first sip, take time to share thoughts as a group. This will help to remove the stigma of wine wankery and make people more confident and comfortable talking about wine. Perfect!

Have a kickback : If people enjoyed their time, they might come back for more. They could even bring their friends. A small discount, or bonus for repeat guests makes the idea all the more enticing.

Walt Disney once said: ‘Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.’ Enough said.

My beautiful sister enjoying a tasting in Alsace. She enjoyed the dry riesling!

At the end of the day, it comes down to making guests feel welcome and comfortable, no matter what their level of wine intel is. Simple, right?

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