Research the Terroir
Let’s start with a definition, shall we?
Terroir (pronounced: teuh-waa) is a fancy French word translating to “a sense of place.” A wine with terroir tastes the way it should given four key factors: climate, soil, tradition, and terrain.
There’s no need to start taking soil samples or flipping through climatic charts. A basic understanding of what wines do well in your region will put you one step ahead of the pack.
Heading towards Tasmania’s Tamar Valley? Here’s a handy hint. This cool-climate region is famous for its Sparkling Whites and Pinot Noir.
Learn the Lingo
The hardest part about a vineyard visit for the viniculture ignoramus is wrapping your head around the lingo. But as this is just a casual tasting, there’s no need to understand complex wine-growing terminology (that would take aeons). A basic grasp will do.
This concise, curated glossary from Usual Wines covers the most crucial wine-growing phrases. Memorise even half of these, and you’ll look like you know your stuff.
Take a Tour
A DIY vineyard excursion gives you the freedom to bounce between your favourite wineries on a whim. But there’s one major drawback: getting done DUI.
As the legal blood alcohol limit kicks in after a few standard drinks, you won’t get to enjoy all the fuzzy, lightheaded goodness a vineyard trip should entail.
Not only will an organised Tasmanian wine tour take care of the transport conundrum, but you’ll get to draw upon the expertise of your local wine-loving guide.
Or Plan Your Day
If you prefer the self-guided DIY option, it’s wise to plan ahead. Work out which wineries you’d like to visit and use your navigation app of choice to determine the fastest route.
Don’t try to cram too many wineries into one day. Aim to spend at least an hour in each place and opt for a healthy mix of boutique makers and big-name players.
A well-planned itinerary will make you look like a veteran vineyard visitor, even if your wine-tasting knowledge is somewhat lacking.
Understand Your Venue(s)
Wineries range from casual, laidback affairs to uppity pretentious haunts. Most err towards the former, so don’t feel obliged to overdress. You won’t look out of place in casual (albeit neat) attire in all but the most high-class vineyards.
It’s worth working out the format before you take a seat and start sipping. Most vineyards offer structured tasting sessions, where a server walks you through each variety on a pre-set list. Some, however, are informal, letting you pick and choose what you want to try.
Line the Stomach
It’s unwise to rock up to a wine-tasting on an empty stomach. Even the novice drinker knows consuming alcohol while hungry gets you drunk at breakneck speed. And that unwanted additional inebriation could ruin the wine’s flavour and lead to careless social blunders.
That said, if your vineyard trip involves an enormous cheese platter or a gourmet three-course lunch, you’ll need to leave some room in the belly.
The Five “S’s”
You’ve done your legwork with the preparation. Now, the big moment has finally arrived: the tasting.
Enjoying wine is straightforward enough—you’ll like what you like. The tricky bit is not looking like an amateur in the process.
Follow the five “S’s” for wine-tasting success.
See the Wine
Gaze deep into the bottom of your glass, and then hold it against the light to admire its intensity. A cloudy appearance stems from sediment, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Tilt the glass to one side (being careful not to spill any) to evaluate its age. Older reds have slight garnet hues, while a well-aged white will have warm copper or golden colours.
Swirl the Wine
Giving the glass a gentle swirl is a classic wine-tasting technique that makes the novice look like a pro. If you’ve had a few and are worried about spillage, hold the base flat on the table and move your glass in circular motions.
The primary purpose is to aerate your wine, enabling rapid oxidation to unlock aromas beneath the surface. You can also evaluate viscosity by looking at the legs (droplets) forming on the side of the glass. Thick legs indicate high viscosity, thus a higher alcohol content and more residual sugar.
Sniff the Wine
Your freshly aerated glass is now primed for a sniff. Hold the glass close to your face and gently breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Red wines exude fresh red or black fruit aromas, while whites smell more like citrus or tropical fruits. Secondary aromas stem from the fermentation process—think yeast, mushroom, honey or earthy smells. The most complex scents to pick are the tertiary aromas (nutty, vanilla, etc.), which come from the type of barrel used in the ageing process.
Can’t tell your raspberries from your raisins?
Here’s a cheeky tip: read up on the aromas in the tasting notes and comment accordingly.
Sip the Wine
Now the fun part.
Hold the glass by the base and take a small sip. Swirl the wine gently around in your mouth to smother all your tastebuds. You’ll pick up on the aromas identified in the previous step, plus several new factors.
- Cool climate whites taste more acidic, whereas less acidic wines have a smoother “mouthfeel.”
- Sweetness is determined by residual sugar levels, ranging from dry (no sugar) to sweet (high sugar).
- Dry wines typically have a higher alcohol content, which leaves a lovely warm sensation in your mouth.
- Highly tannic wines (predominantly reds) have an astringent taste that puckers the mouth and numbs the tongue.
- Old oak barrel-aged wines (the fancy stuff) have softer and rounder tannins, whereas the tannins in younger wines have a harsher mouthfeel.
- Texture ranges from full-bodied to light. Thick, almost syrupy wines are full-bodied and have a high alcohol content, while light-bodied wines (easy-drinking fruity varieties like Pinot Noir) have a low ABV.
Although we’ve covered the bare basics, that’s still quite a bit to wrap your head around. Don’t be afraid to take a cheeky peek at the tasting notes and ask your server plenty of questions.
Spit or Swallow the Wine
Professional wine-tasters spit each glass out so inebriation doesn’t affect their senses. But as you’re not on the clock, there’s no harm gulping down each subsequent mouthful.
Of course, if you’re starting to feel a tad too tipsy, it’s fine to spit the liquid out into the spittoon. While spitting feels uncouth in a formal setting, it’s 100% normal in the wine-tasting realm. Look for the empty bucket-shaped container on your table (don’t spit back into your glass!).
While we’re on the topic of tipsy, not all vineyards have a high tolerance for drunken antics. The more expensive venues respond better to orderly clientele. Read the room and recognise that most people (or at least some people) don’t visit vineyards to get blind.
Cleanse the Palate
You’ll see a glass of water on the table. That’s not there to keep you hydrated or mitigate tomorrow’s hangover. Rather, water works well at cleansing the palette.
Taking a solid sip of water in-between glasses will remove the previous vintage’s flavours from your mouth. That way, you’ll have a lovely fresh (cleansed) palette to taste the next drop.
Granted, for the wine-tasting laymen, you probably won’t notice much difference. But it will make you look the part.
You’ve aced your wine-tasting session and made a string of pertinent comments to impress your cohorts. But to really drive your viniculture prowess home, take a few tasting notes as you go. Rank each wine with a 1-10 score and write relevant comments regarding the flavour.
The purpose of note-taking is twofold. Not only will you appear more knowledgeable than you are, but you’ll also have a handy shortlist of your favourites come bottle-buying time.
It’s rude to publicly announce your displeasure if you aren’t enamoured by a particular drop. Keep your criticisms for your private tasting notes and move on.
Buy a Bottle
Is buying a bottle (or twelve) obligatory?
Not really. But if you like what you’ve tried, it’s a pretty good idea. Most vineyards will deduct the price of your tasting against your purchase, making the liquid souvenir seem all the more worthwhile.
Nonetheless, don’t expect big discounts at the vineyard unless you sign up for an ongoing wine club membership.
Book a Wine-Tasting Tour with Luxury Tours Tasmania
Keen to quaff the finest vino in the Apple Isle?
Then get in touch with us at Luxury Tours Tasmania. We run a range of food and wine tours throughout the state, from quick vineyard visits to multi-day gourmet forays.
Our passionate oenophile chauffeurs will even dish out a few impromptu tips to make you look like an expert in the tasting room.