The greatest way to travel has to be from winery to winery no? Well here is a quick guide to making sure your not letting anything get in the way of that grand experience.
The single biggest mistake people make when venturing off to a magical place full of wine is bringing their preferences with them. Yes yes yes. I understand we all like different things and that some of us don't like certain things BUT…forget about it! If I had a dollar for every time I have heard the dreadful statement, “Oh I don't like Merlot” - Gahhhhh! Bless Paul Giamatti and that wonderful movie but c’mon people, Merlot is responsible for someof the best wines on the planet…I wonder if I offered them a sample of Petrus they would turn their nose up? Yah, guess what - Merlot! So aside from my rant on the Sideways stigma that still plagues tasting rooms 13 years after its release, it is always a treat to try new things; and when touring a wine region forgetting all of your preferences at home can open up a whole world of exciting new discoveries that you may carry with you for the rest of your life so…Open up! - and always have a glass.
Forget what you know…
So this one I always have to remind myself of. Being a Sommelier I usually have a good sense of the places I visit, however, if I were to allow my knowledge to get in the way of listening and observing while visiting, I would have missed out on some of the greatest lessons of my career. Something I have learned over the years is that there is only so much you can learn from reading books or tasting wines. Visiting the places themselves always shows the real depth of the region, and will surely open your eyes to an amazing wealth of lessons that can give you an understanding of wines impossible to achieve without immersing yourself in the places that they come from. So do yourself a favour and pretend you know nothing, and by the time the tour is over you will undoubtedly have picked up knowledge that you will never forget.
Lose your watch!
Okay don't actually lose your watch, but I'm sure you know what I mean. Worrying about the time on vacation is always a bad idea, but when you are trying to enjoy touring a winery and tasting their wines, it is a sure fire way to mute your senses and miss all of the fun. The thing you need to realize about visiting a winery, especially the ones in the Old World, is that a tasting/tour can take longer than you have planned, and that is perfectly okay, trust me. Some of my fondest memories of touring a winery have come when unexpected delays kept me at a winery for an extra few minutes, or hour…or many hours; oh the stories… Something to also consider is that even if your tour/tasting is on time, being concerned about your itinerary can mess up your experience either way so leave that to your tour guide. When you are tasting a wine and listening to a passionate representative or tour guide explaining the winery’s process, you really do have to have a certain level of focus. This is not to say you have to take yourself too seriously, but a little concentration is what it takes to lose yourself in the beauty of the winemaker’s creation.
This is something I wish I could go back in time and tell every up-tight wine snob that I was leading through a tour. I certainly don't want to be mean, I'm sure some people are just a bit more particular about how they like to enjoy their wine and want everyone around them to know it, but let’s be honest, it is a bit annoying. What I mean is that there is no reason to insist that everyone around you performs every action of their wine tasting with perfect precision, and furthermore, no reason to worry about performing any action incorrectly yourself. While there definitely is a method to tasting wines, and many observations you can make about aroma, structure, flavour and other intricacies, doing it “right” is only to be worried about when your in a professional setting. Like anything else, when your enjoying something at your leisure, just enjoy it, in whatever way you please. The thing about wine is that when it is all said and done, all wines are crafted to be enjoyed and shared with whomever wishes to partake in the enjoyment, and what better place to enjoy them than at the place where they were made. So, kick back, relax, and enjoy the wine. Taste it how you wish, sniff it how you must, and by all means, ask any and all questions that come to your mind; after all, there really aren't any stupid questions (okay theres a few but lets just assume you won’t ask those).
Learn the basics.
So this will seem completely contradictory to number 4…but hear me out. What I mean by this is that if you know that you are going to be headed out on a vacation based around wine, do a touch of research and get familiar with the area you are visiting. The reason I suggest this is that with a little bit of base knowledge, you will probably find that your level of excitement for the events you are about to partake in will grow exponentially, and you will undoubtedly have an even better experience once you arrive. Another tip is to learn a little bit about tasting wine. I know I just said that you should kick back and relax, and you should, but getting a little familiar with what you are trying to taste and a couple of tips on how to taste them will really amplify your sensory satisfaction. One thing to remember when you are tasting wines is that you should never, ever, ever be shy to say you taste something. Usually when you are on a tour, you will have someone leading you through your tasting and speaking about what you will taste or smell, which allows that person a chance to help you fine tune your palate and inevitably improve your ability to taste, giving you more and more satisfaction every time. One more thing…everybody has been extremely wrong about an aroma they think they smell, or a flavour that they think they taste, so throw caution to the wind and blurt out whatever you wish. The worst case scenario is that it brings some laughs, and there is nothing wrong with that.