How to Go Wine Tasting (When You Know Nothing About Wine)

Originally published in Sip Northwest

By Molly Allen

Let’s face it. At some point, the world of wine can feel a little bit intimidating for all of us. It can be especially daunting for those who have never gone wine tasting before. Whether someone asks you to head out to a tasting room for a fun summertime date or a weekend girls trip, the reality may set in that you actually know nothing about wine — and the pressure starts to get a little too real.  

Especially true when watching TV shows about sommeliers swirling their glasses, sniffing the wine and swishing it in their mouth, wine tasting can make you feel a lack of confidence. But the good news is that wine tasting is not as difficult as it’s made out to be, and we’ve pulled together a few key tips to make it a little less scary.  

Utilize the Staff 

Tasting room staff are there to help you. And just like any wine expert, they were once in your shoes. A knowledge of wine comes with hours of tastings, tastings and more tastings, and the ability to talk about the characteristics of a wine certainly does not come overnight. Tasting room staff will generally start you with their lighter wines, typically the white and rosé options, and then move into the bigger, bolder reds. It’s a tasting room attendant’s job to tell you about the wine you’re trying, where the grapes were grown, when it was harvested, when it was bottled and so on. Let them be your lead.  

You Won’t Always Taste What Other People Do 

As you’re tasting, don’t be afraid to ask questions or have a differing opinion. After all, a wine tasting experience can be completely different for you versus your best friend standing right next to you. “Drop any preconceived notions on wine you may have and be open-minded,” says Dave Bishop of Icicle Ridge Winery, located in Peshastin, Washington.  

We all have a different set of taste buds and unique palates, so the notes that someone else discovers in a wine may be totally unrecognizable to you, and that’s OK. Part of the joy of wine tasting is the conversation about what you’re trying and the story behind it. Don’t be afraid to ask about the family history of the winery, what characteristics may be highlighted in the wine’s tasting notes, what the wine pairs well with and any other questions that may arise.  

Try Something New 

If you’ve only tried whites in the comfort of your own home — or perhaps only sampled that one bold, fruity red that really got you interested in wine — remember there’s so much more out there. As you’re wine tasting, don’t be afraid to try something new. “It’s important to keep an open mind,” says Brandon Dietrich, tasting room manager for Treveri Cellars in Wapato, Washington. “You might just find a new favorite along the way.”  

Typically, tastings at a winery are offered for a nominal $5 or $10 fee, which includes a number of different tastes. Once the tasting room staff starts talking about their Gewürztraminer and you realize you have never heard of it (let alone can’t even pronounce it), just take a sip. You may find it’s the exact taste you needed to discover that you really do like white wine, and you never would have known if you hadn’t opted to try something new.