Monday, May 7, 2012

The HoseMaster's Guide to Tasting Room Etiquette


You’ve decided that you want to learn about wine, and that one of the best ways to learn about it is to travel to wine country and taste. This couldn’t be further from reality. Tasting rooms are the major source of misinformation in the wine business, aside from wine blogs, winery press releases and Food and Wine. But your heart is set on it, you’ve booked the cheapest hotel in the county (the bed vibrates, but not as much as the mini-fridge), and you’ve mapped out your tastings. But you’re not really sure how to behave in tasting rooms, what the proper etiquette is, how to appear professional and wine-savvy. Well, have no fear, in this edition of Basics of Wine Appreciation, we’ll learn all about tasting room etiquette.

What do I wear to a tasting room?

One of the most important things to wear to a tasting room is cologne. Tasting rooms are usually pretty crowded, and the aroma of dozens of inebriated humans on a hot day is surprisingly reminiscent of Nick Nolte’s G-spot. Wearing a lovely splash of cologne, preferably something your grandmother adored, like Elizabeth Taylor’s “I’m Dead,” is particularly welcome. It’s natural to wonder how your cologne might interfere with the aromas of the wines being served, but that’s not your problem. Besides, there’s nothing worse than standing next to a woman wearing perfume in a tasting room when you’re without; in which case it is perfectly acceptable to fight back with your Constitutional Right to life, liberty and the pursuit of flatulence. Soil is not just important to wine. Ah, yes, there’s methane to your madness.

When it comes to clothing, yes, it is important to wear it. Have you seen how ugly the people are in tasting rooms?

What’s the proper way to taste each wine?

Your generous hospitality representative will pour you a small taste of each wine. It is not appropriate to insist, “I’ll say when” while they’re pouring. Or, “That’s barely a mouthful--like my wife.” You may then swirl the wine in the glass, though it’s ineffably stupid to do so. The damn wine’s been open all day, you think swirling it’s going to do anything? It’s like Mike Wallace, it’s not going to breathe any more! And, for God’s sake, don’t say something stupid about the “legs.” This is an instant tip-off you’re an idiot. Legs are about as important to wine as they are to snakes and land mines. And no one cares if you think it’s a pretty color either. What are you, six? “Ooh, that’s so pretty.” If wineries cared about the color do you think they’d put the stuff in green bottles?

Once you’ve managed not to look stupid just getting that first taste, now it’s time to actually put it in your mouth. Ladies, don’t forget to apply plenty of lipstick first. This will not enhance your tasting experience, but it does royally piss off the tasting room help who have to wash the glassware. And showing your contempt for them subconsciously reminds them of the sommeliers, wine writers and wine shop owners they are called upon to serve, and makes them hold you in higher regard. (Insider’s tip: If you don’t have any lipstick with you, try rubbing some of the complimentary cheese around the rim of the glass!) Hold the wine up to your nose, put your nose as far into the glass as it will allow, and inhale deeply. Think about what you’re smelling in this pristine tasting room environment. Lipstick? The trembling mini-Chihuahua in the woman’s purse next to you (it’s not a dog, it’s a personal vibrator!)? The guy next to you expressing his Constitutional rights in response to your splash of Lindsey Lohan’s “Jailhouse Rape" perfume? Once you’ve pegged the aromas, take a taste of the wine itself. There, you’ve done it, you’ve managed to taste a wine in a prestigious appellation’s tasting room and not make a jackass of yourself. You’re welcome.

What is the etiquette for expectorating?

It’s not required that you spit, but if you do, make sure it’s wine. Spitting is otherwise frowned upon, though you may pick your nose. It pairs nicely with orange wines. If you decide to spit, step away from the spit bucket (often called a dump bucket, but, frankly, that’s REALLY frowned upon) about two feet and release a long, graceful arc of the wine into the receptacle. It’s best to practice this technique at home before your big trip. Make sure and practice in all kinds of weather conditions, particularly with a strong breeze in your face. It is acceptable to spit the wine directly into the spit bucket, but, really, you came here to have fun, right? Let it fly.

Remember, there are no taste buds in your throat. Those are cancerous nodules you feel. Professionals taste the wine, then spit it out. Mostly because they show up drunk and don’t want to fall down or pass out, but, still, it’s a good idea. And, it gives you the appearance of being an expert, though wearing that bib probably cancels that out.

What will I learn from the tasting room staff?

Tasting room staff are impeccably trained to answer all of your wine questions. However, so is a Magic Eight Ball, which is considerably more accurate. You will certainly learn, however, information that will teach you a great deal about that magical product that tasting rooms are charmingly dedicated to. I’m speaking, of course, about their wine club. They always have cutesy names, sort of like how we refer to our genitals, and, similarly, some come every month, others once a year. The Duckhorn Monthly Bills. Rombauer Selections—the R.S. Club. Fess Parker’s That’s a Giant Crockett Club. That’s what you’ll learn about.

But, honestly, learning about wine from hospitality employees is like learning about horses from the guy who cleans the stalls. Shoveling manure is a gift, and both vocations are accomplished at it.

Is it OK to show up drunk?

Tasting room employees are carefully trained to refuse service to anyone visibly intoxicated. Don’t let that discourage you. You planned on visiting six wineries a day, you don’t like to spit because, “That’s a waste!,” and if you can just eat a dozen more tasting room crackers you’ll be fine to drive the country road and stop at more than half the stop signs and barely clip the bicyclists (if done gracefully, you may be awarded both ears and the jersey). You’re fine. Don’t worry about it. Just mention how interested you are in the WINE CLUB! Always, always, mention the wine club. This soothes the fears of tasting room employees, makes them see you as visibly intoxicating, a crucial difference.

You’re in wine country, dammit, the whole economy relies on insobriety. You’re simply being a patriot. Is it OK to show up drunk? What kind of question is that? It’s not only OK, it’s your solemn responsibility. Give me liver failure, or give me death!  



Bob said...

Awesome. This needs to be in every tasting room's employee guide. In fact, I'll put it in our right now!

Steve Heimoff said...

Is it permissible to go to the bathroom in the bushes outside the tasting room?

Ron Washam, HMW said...


Only if you take the appropriately-named dump bucket with you.

The general rule is, "If they'll let your dog do it, it's OK for you as well." But remember to ask permission before leg-humping.

Anonymous said...

Is it permissible to indulge in sexual escapades behind the first row of vines? I am already fucked up so why not see if I can get it up?

Mister Us Wheeze

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Mister Us Wheeze,

Yes. This goes back to the previously noted Dog Rule.

Special Note: At Biodynamic wineries, you may not use a condom. It might prevent indigenous yeast infections.

Samantha Dugan said...

Now wait a darn tootin' minute here. When I was up visiting you and you took me to those tasting rooms, you told me it was customary to remove my shirt before spitting....mixed messages here bub.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

Oh. Hmm. Well, you were wearing such a nice shirt, and since it's quite a distance from your lips to beyond your wondrous bosom, I thought it best.

And double magnums are my favorite format.

Wow, I Love You So!

Mockingbird said...

"tasting rooms are the major source of misinformation in the wine business"
well, that explains Jay McInerney:

Samantha Dugan said...

And I suppose the jumping up and down you made me do doesn't actually aerate the wine either?!

Mockingbird said...

BD disallows condoms?
Was Steiner a Catholic?...

Carolyn Blakeslee said...

Several months ago I watched an old episode of Gary V. tasting with Jancis R. and she had to keep asking him to move the bucket back to where she could reach it ... it was tough for her, as she had to interrupt him every time ... that was oddly entertaining.

Thomas said...


Reading JM, and reading about him in Slate, has a Hosemaster-like air about it, don't you think?

Well, it has some kind of odor, anyway...

Beau said...

This is brilliant. I am going to re-train all my staff using some of these guidelines. We'll show those hoity-toity "wine" people what's up!

John M. Kelly said...

You forgot the part about "Be sure to tell your server, repeatedly, that you are a regular customer, or a local, so they should comp your tastings."

And "If you want to actually buy some wine, join the wine club to get the discount. Then quit before they actually ship you any wine. Or better yet, when they do ship you wine call and scream at the person at the other end of the line that you never joined their effing club, over and over until they reverse the charge on your card. And then keep what they sent you. Because, you know that sort of thing is factored into the retail price, right?"

Oh, and RE: escapades in the vines? Not recommended. (1) Other drunk guests might see you and laugh at the scale of your wedding tackle, making it an embarrassing moment for your "date." And (2) especially at bioD vineyards you might end up with a bee in your bonnet, or your date might, which would definitely lead to (1).

But by all means, sneak off from the tour and have sex in the barrel cellar! Everyone knows the barrel cellar is like a hotel in the Tenderloin that bills in 15 minute increments. Have at it! And be sure to leave a little of yourself behind - what do you think "natural" winemakers use to soften the tannins in their wines?

Ron Washam, HMW said...


Many folks have asked me to lampoon Jay McInerney, but the bozo is self-parody. He is an Everest of wine stupidity, and, frankly, I don't have the Sherpa to get me over that gigantic pile.


Does ANYONE miss Gary V.? And I think "oddly entertaining" is the perfect expression. Poor Jancis. If she'd had any gumption she would have just spit on the floor--or the host.


Thanks. Far from "brilliant," I'm no Jay McInerney, but, hey, it's free.


I was writing for the novice tasting room attendee, not the hardened freeloader alcoholics who fancy themselves connoisseurs and ambassadors for wineries and thus deserve our thanks, no tasting fees and a discount. In other words, wine bloggers.

Mockingbird said...

"If she'd had any gumption"...

So how do you explain her giving a gig to BushFlowerTree man (who does not like being held to journalistic standards when called on something, but now considers himself a colleague of other "wine journalists" since he got the gig)?

Mockingbird said...

Incidentally, you of all people might appreciate the fact that there is a difference between "GaryVee" and Gary Vaynerchuk in private. I've spoken to him in person once and glimpsed a considerably disparate persona...

Anonymous said...

Clearly, I'm not mean enough. I must be giving my audience way too much credit!

No more Mr. Nice Guy, that's for sure! Great piece.

Dosage Dog said...

You forgot to mention gargling to release the phenols.

Anonymous said...

Key to enjoying any tasting room experience: Be sure to bring your kids! Everybody knows that kids need to run and play after a long car ride, and a tasting room is the perfect place for a kid to be a kid. Many tasting rooms include jungle gyms, ball pits, or educational toys for the little ones and skateparks or free bicycle rental for the adolescents. Barring such amenities, your delightful offspring can improvise on the tasting rooms stairs, guardrails, or catwalks . . . and everybody loves playing in the parking lot! Make sure that your kids get in on the fun while mom and dad drink and expound on their favorite hobby - drinking!

Thomas said...

The tasting bar is also a good place for changing diapers. It's big, flat, and always has an attendant to piss on.

John Cesano said...

Thank you for the gift to every tasting room employee, I'm printing this for my staff, they'll love it.

Orson said...

I actually do miss Gary V, he was awesome. What's the matter with you??

Ron Washam, HMW said...


Yeah, awesome.

In answer to your question--A Lot.