Wine Etiquette Tips - dummies

By Ed McCarthy, Mary Ewing-Mulligan

In case you’ve never been to a wine tasting or wine class, a few matters of etiquette apply. Familiarizing yourself with the etiquette here will help you feel more comfortable. Otherwise, you’re likely to be appalled by what you see or hear. Why are those people behaving like that?!

To spit or not to spit?

Professional wine tasters long ago discovered that if they swallow every wine they taste, they become far less thoughtful tasters by the time they reach the ninth or tenth wine. So spitting each wine after evaluating it became acceptable.

In working wineries, professional tasters sometimes spit right onto the gravel floor or into the drains. In more elegant surroundings and in wine classes, tasters spit into a spittoon, usually a simple container like a large plastic cup (one per taster) or an empty ice bucket that two or three tasters share.

At first, some tasters are naturally loath to spit out wine. Not only have they been brought up to believe that spitting is uncouth, but they’ve also paid good money for the opportunity to taste the wines. Why waste them?

Well, you can drink all your wine at a wine tasting, if you want — and some people do. But it isn’t advised, for the following reasons:

  • Evaluating the later wines is difficult if you swallow the earlier ones. The alcohol you consume clouds your perceptions.

  • Swallowing is not really necessary in order to taste the wine fully. If you leave the wine in your mouth for eight to ten seconds, you are able to taste it thoroughly — while minimizing the effects of the alcohol.

  • If you are driving to the tasting, you’re taking a risk driving home afterward if you drink rather than spit. The stakes are high — your life and health, others’ lives, and your driver’s license. Why gamble?

The simple solution: Spit out the wine. Just about all experienced wine tasters do. Believe it or not, spitting will seem to be a very normal thing to do at wine tastings after a while. (And, in the meantime, it’s one sure way to appear more experienced than you are!)

If you know that you can’t bring yourself to spit, be sure to have something substantial to eat before going to a wine tasting. You absorb alcohol more slowly on a full stomach — and the simple crackers and bread at most wine tastings aren’t sufficient to do the trick. And, of course, don’t drive afterward.

More fine points of wine etiquette

Because smell is such an important aspect of wine tasting, courteous tasters try not to interfere with other tasters’ ability to smell. This means

  • Smoking (anything) is a complete no-no at any wine tasting.

  • Using any scent (perfume, after-shave lotion, scented hair spray, and so on) is unacceptable. These extraneous odors can really interfere with your fellow tasters’ ability to detect the wine’s aroma.

Courteous wine tasters also don’t volunteer their opinions about a wine until other tasters have had a chance to taste the wine. Serious tasters like to form their opinions independently and are sure to throw dirty looks at anyone who interrupts their concentration.

Most of these wine-tasting etiquette guidelines apply to wine classes as well — and are also relevant when you visit wineries around the world.