Wine travel is on the up, and for any fledgling wine lover the next logical step in your wine relationship would be to go on a wine tour.
If you’re a wine travel virgin, it might seem daunting knowing what to expect on your very first wine holiday, or even if you’re a seasoned winery visitor, sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of what to expect and how to plan.
Inspired by the Wall Street Journal’s 15 Steps to a Successful Winery Visit we have put together a few suggestions (with the help of wine GIFs) to make your next wine tour your best wine tour!
1. Book in advance - Last minute enquiries can lead to disappointment! Wineries have limited availability, so if you’ve got your heart set on a particular winery or wine tour, it’s best to book at least a week ahead (or even one month in advance, if it's peak season).
2. Get an early start to avoid the crowds - As one of our wine bloggers recently experienced in Napa Valley, if you don’t get an early start (especially on weekends) not only will you lose time, but there will also be more people around distracting winemakers and owners from giving you the one-on-one attention you want!
3. Spit or Swallow? Isn’t this what’s on everyone’s mind at a wine tasting? Well the answer is… it’s really up to you, so don’t be afraid to do either. (Of course if you’re going to spit, please use the spittoons!) If you’re not enjoying a wine, or just don’t fancy drinking the rest of it, don’t feel obliged to finish it - this is the only time in your life where spitting will be socially acceptable. And if you love a wine, it’s all yours to drink - you’ve paid for this tasting after all. Whatever you do, remember to pace yourself especially if you’ve got an all day wine tasting event planned.
4. To drive or not to drive? - Whether you plan to spit or swallow, wouldn’t it be great to have the option to drink if something particular catches your eye. Plus, in lots of wine regions you will have to drive between wineries to get around, so without a car or drived you may be stuck with unreliable public transport, or getting around by foot. You have three options - hire a driver, which can actually work out quite economical, elect a designated driver as part of a self-drive tour, or join a small group tour of 4-8 people. The last option is our favourite because it means you will be able to meet other wine lovers and relax whilst someone else chauffeurs you!
5. Size doesn’t matter - Contrary to popular opinion, size isn’t everything; especially when it comes to wineries. Often it’s the largest wineries which are the busiest and least personal, so we recommend going off-the-beaten-path to those smaller, boutique wineries if you really want to make your trip authentic.
Some of our favourite boutique wineries are Poggio al Casone in Tuscany, Clos Figueras in Priorat and Et Cetera in Moldova who offer relaxed visits, fun tastings and tours and even meetings with the winemakers.
6. Eat like a local - Always squeeze in lunch between winery visits, not only is it wise to line the stomach whilst drinking, but it’s also a fantastic way to sample the local dishes. Some wineries even have on-site restaurants in the middle of the vines and take careful consideration into planning a menu that matches perfectly with their wines. In our minds, this is an absolute winner. One of our favourite experiences is this full-day Rioja tour during which you’ll be treated to a 5-course paired with local wines!
7. It doesn’t have to cost the world - It’s an easy misconception to think that wine travel will burn a big hole in your wallet but this needn’t be the case. If you do your research well, you will avoid paying any unnecessary premiums. Wine tours should be fun, educational and filled with the best of memories - don’t miss out because of a seemingly steep price-tag. Try our Mendoza wine tour for a low-cost day out in Argentina’s most renowned wine region.
8. The kids are alright - Surprisingly, wineries can make for a great family day out. You should always check whether wineries host children, but many are very family-friendly (especially in California). Lots of wineries offer family-oriented activities and workshops as well as grape juice tasting for the kids.
9. To buy or not to buy - A survey we conducted said that 88% of people will buy wine from a winery, but that doesn’t mean you should feel obliged to buy anything - you’re there for a tasting, which means you do just that. If you don’t like what you try then don’t buy; if you love the wine then we recommend taking a bottle or two home with you.
10. Know how long to go for - The beauty of wine travel is that you can plan anything between a half-day trip, to a multi-day wine tour. Again in our survey we saw that 14% of people went for the day, 47% went for the weekend, 30% went for a week and 9% went for more than a week. The things to consider are firstly how much time can you spare from work or other commitments and, secondly, how much of a place do you want to see? Based on this information you can find something to suit your time-frame perfectly.
11. Know what kind of wine you like - You should always have an answer ready to the question, “What sort of wine do you like?” You don’t have to get too specific, but if you can provide your host with any information (even if all you can say is that you like dry wines), that will be a good starting point for them to be able to recommend you towards something best suited to your palate… and if in doubt, don’t be afraid to try something new.
12. Remember where you are - It’s easy to forget that you’re in a winery for a wine tasting and some people switch into the mindset of being at a bar or pub. Remember that you’re not, so be respectful to your hosts and other tasters.
Bonus tip: whatever you do, do NOT drink wine from the bottle.
For more tips read our Dos and Don’ts of Wine Tasting.
Title Image: Eatdrinkfilms.com