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Tasting Etiquette, from Becky Driscoll of Stemilt Creek Winery

Survival Guide to Wine Touring & tasting 101

The image of hunkering over a small fire comes to mind when I think of using the survival lessons I learned as a Girl Scout.  Now that my profession has moved to the wine industry, I can still use many of those principles while touring wine country.  If you are a novice or expert at wine tasting, please review these tips on how to be a good steward of our wine environment.  Way back in my days of cookie slinging and pigtails, I learned the 7 “Leave No Trace” principles to adhere to when visiting our gorgeous outdoors.  When you venture out to tour wineries you can apply most of these tips too.

1. Know before you go – Please plan appropriately.  

HOURS OF OPERATION - Many wineries, especially our smaller producers, have varying hours.  If you would like to visit a winery check their website for their hours.  Better yet, phone or email the winery.  Many folks might be around on hours not posted on their website.  

GROUPS - If you are bringing a group over 8 people, make a reservation.  Parking can also be a difficult so you might want to inquire on that too.  

TOUR of FACILITIES - If you want something extra special such as a tour, you should ask before going and make reservation for that.  

TRAVEL TIME – Amazing how wine flies when you are having fun….I mean, time flies when you are having fun!  When planning your trip make sure you have plenty of time at each spot and account for the distance you will have to travel to the next winery especially if you have reservations at multiple locations.

KIDS & PETS – Not to lump the too together but check with the winery if you are traveling with either of these family members. There are a lot of wineries that accommodate Kids and pets but showing up and asking for forgiveness can lead to awkwardness on both sides of the counter.

PERSONAL ATTIRE – If you are planning a long day of wine tours, dress appropriately.  Comfortable shoes.  Think about the weather.  It will matter at the end of the day. 

BUDGET - Fees to taste are standard operating procedure at most wineries, though some still offer complimentary or very low-cost tastes. Many will waive tasting fees with a wine purchase (which takes some of the sting out of higher fees), so be sure to inquire about such incentives. Make sure you’re aware of shipping laws applying to your state if you need to ship wine back home.

Hydrate - Drink plenty of water to stave off dehydration and always plan on having a designated driver. 

2. Choose the right path – TASTING ORDER –  Folks seem to think that you go whites to reds.  That is only true to a point.  Not “white” but “light”.  Meaning you want to taste the wines with lighter body before more robust reds or you could lose the delicate nuances in the lighter wines due to tannins or flavors of the more bold wines.  And ALWAYS serve sweet wines at the end of your line up.  Otherwise you run the risk of the sweetness interfering with the flavors of more robust wines.  

3. Pack your trash – SPIT/DUMP – I know it is odd that as pretentious as wine can be it is perfectly acceptable to swish wine around in your mouth then spit it out.  I, for one, ALWAYS spit when I have multiple wines lined up to taste.  However, I bring along a red solo cup to spit into and a disposable napkin.  I am totally grossed out by the dump bucket.  Anyone see Sideways?  The wine tasting attendants will not be offended by you passing on a wine, dumping a wine, or spitting.  They will however, if you trash-talk their wines.  If you do not care for the wine simply dump it and move on.  

4. Leave what you find – UNLESS OTHERWISE OFFERED – Unbelievable as it sounds, I have to write this: taking what is not yours is stealing.  The tasting glasses are usually not given to you to take home. Likewise, the gorgeous flowers in the winery’s garden or on the tables are not usually free for the taking.  Weird that I have to mention this but you would be amazed at how people act when on wine tours.  

5. Be careful with fire –  IN THIS CASE WINE -  There are some techniques that will bring wine to its optimal condition before tasting.  This portion of this article is for those of you who want to really dive in and learn more about the sensory aspects of wine tasting.  Industry refers to these as the tasting technique – Swirl, see, smell, sip, savor, select.

Swirl– to keep the wine in its glass while swirling, have the bottom of the glass keep n contact with the tabletop.  Otherwise, you could be wearing it!  This technique also allows the wine to cling to the glass and opens some of the phenol content (that’s a fancy word for smells and flavors) of the wine. 

See – Hold wine glasses by the stem rather than the bowl; holding them by the bowl coats glasses with fingerprints.  You are looking for a few things when you “see” the wine.  Look for clarity, color, and streaming wine otherwise called the “legs” of the wine.  All are clues to the wines content.

Smell - Inhale deeply through your nose before taking a sip; wine’s aromas tell a big part of the story.  What varietal it is, where it came from, how old or young the wine is.  This is a good time to ask the attendant questions about the craftsmanship of the wine.  

Sip - Upon drinking, swirl the wine around in your mouth.  Think about  textures like heavy, thick, light, and viscosity.  Think about the flavors; are they savory, sweet, fruit, earth, leather.  Think about the sensations such as heat, refreshing, cold.  Be thoughtful as how the wine changes on your palate.  I love using the Wine Wheel for dialing in the exact flavors.

Savor (or Spit) – If you swallow the wine think about how it feels going down your throat.  Whether you swallow or spit you will have a chance to reflect on the length of the finish which is the amount of time the wine’s flavors stick around after the wine is gone.  Count how many seconds you can still taste and feel the wine.  

Select – If you like the wine and find it reasonably priced, take some home.  Ask the attendant if there are any offers that will allow you to save money.  Many wineries offer quantity discounts and many have loyalty programs.  

6. Respect wildlife – RESPECT THE WINE ATTENDANT – On some occasions the person pouring the wine is also the owner or winemaker for the winery.  These are great opportunities to dig in deep to the history of the wines or geek out on the craftsmanship of the wine.  Other times you will be chatting with a tasting room attendant.  If a winery has trained their staff you will still get the story and some of the winemaking but generally these folks are not experts in winemaking BUT they are experts in customer service.  If they don’t have an answer for you ask for the contact person for the winery.  

Questions  - Ask away.  Most folks in tasting rooms love to share their passion for wine.  

Comments – Folks pouring wines in tasting rooms are there primarily because they love the wine they are pouring.  If you like the wines let them know.  If not, dump it and move on.  Wine tasting is subjective.  Your personal preference might not line up to a winemaking style.  Simply dump it and move on.  This is not to say you should not point out a flaw but there is some tact in doing so.  Being critical of a wine is comparable to coming into a persons home and criticizing there taste in décor.  

Dumping and spitting – Totally acceptable as referred to in “Pack Your Trash”.

Splitting a tasting with a companion is acceptable.  It even sends the message that you are tasting responsibly.

Consumption - Keep tabs on how much you’re consuming. Typically, wineries offer one-ounce pours. As a reference point, there are four to six ounces of wine in a typical glass; know your limit and spit or stop when you’ve reached it or the attendant pouring can and should no longer pour wine to you.  It is their license at risk if you push the matter.  

Purchase wine – If you like what you have tasted buy some.  Having wines at home to share with your friends and family is a great way to relive your touring memories.  Many wineries have special offerings throughout the year and loyalty programs including quantity discounts. 

7. Be kind to other visitors – With wine touring becoming mainstream there all folks from all walks of life enjoying wine.  Be aware of your comrades in wineries.  Visit with them.  That is what wine is about; sharing and exploring the greatness of the vine!

Perfume - Don't wear perfume or heavily scented cologne to tasting rooms; the scents can overwhelm the subtle aromas in wine – and interfere with your own and others’ experience. 

Conduct - Wineries are wineries, not bars or nightclubs. Although alcohol is being served, it’s a relaxed and conversational environment. Save loud banter and raucous activities for later!

There you have it; a broad view on how to survive wine touring and tasting!  There are so many ways to learn about wines from our region.  I would suggest going to the front lines; go to the tasting rooms.  The folks there love what they are doing!  .  Cheers! 

From Becky Driscoll, Certified Sommelier, Wine Veteran, more blog posts can be found


Wine Pairings for the Holidays

Christmas tree decorated? Check. Shopping done? Check (for some of us, it’s not a check).  Now it’s time to plan your wines for your Christmas and New Years celebrations!  The wineries of Wenatchee Wine Country have a variety of award-winning wines to complement the special dishes we make for holiday entertaining. 

Many of us serve roast beef or prime rib for holiday dinners. The best wines to pair with this include are full-bodied red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere, Merlot Blends and Cab Sauv blends. 37 Cellars, Horan Estates, and Ryan Patrick Vineyards have lovely Cab Sauvs for you to enjoy. Chateau Faire le Pont has a fabulous Carmenere, and their Tre Amore and Provence are great with beef. Malaga Springs, Esther Bricques Winery and  37 Cellars make  amazing Cabernet Francs.  Baroness Cellars, Bella Terrazza Vineyards, and Stemilt Creek Winery have great red blends and merlots that pair nicely with beef entrees, too.

Are you serving ham?  Rose’ wines, Grenache and Cotes du Rhone Blends (Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre) are excellent pairings to offset the saltiness of ham. Crayelle Cellars’ Bishops Block is such a blend. Malaga Springs, Voila Vineyards and Beaumont Cellars have wonderful Rose’s. Baroness Cellars also has a Grenache blend that would pair nicely with ham.

Is Turkey your choice of entree? Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and a lighter style Syrah pair nicely with turkey. White Heron Cellars, Chateau Faire le Pont Winery, and Esther Bricques Winery have wonderful Pinot Noirs to enjoy. Martin-Scott Winery, Malaga Springs and Beaumont Cellars have great Zinfandels for pairing with turkey as well. Martin-Scott Winery, Horan Estates, Crayelle Cellars, Chateau Faire le Pont and Horan Estates all have fabulous Syrahs.

It’s always a good idea to have white wines for guests that prefer white wines.  Viognier, Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris are excellent choices. Stemilt Creek has a lovely Riesling blend called Sweet Adelaide. Horan Estates, Martin-Scott, and Chateau Faire le Pont Winery have excellent Viogniers. White Heron, Bella Terrazza, and Beaumont  Cellars have beautiful Chardonnays. Martin-Scott, Malaga Springs Winery have lovely Pinot Gris. Another excellent choice are the hard ciders from the Snowdrift Cider Co. 

Whatever is in your glass this holiday season, the vintners of Wenatchee Wine Country hope that your holidays are peaceful and filled with joy. We wish you a safe and happy New Year, too!  Cheers! 


For wine guests who are touring: How to make your wine tasting enjoyable

This article is reprinted with permission from John at  Cheers!

Over the past five years, I’ve written several posts giving tips for visiting wine country which included advice on being friendly and polite and respecting the time of the people working in a tasting room and on areas needing improvement in tasting room operations. Today, I want to update those posts as a result of the many tasting room visits I’ve made since those posts were written.

Here’s my updated list of suggestions for tasting room visitors:

  1. Stay sober. If you plan to visit a number of wineries in one day, learn to spit rather than swallow. Most tasting rooms have dump buckets for this purpose. And believe me, you can tell just as much about the wine when you spit as when you swallow. Otherwise, you won’t have a clue what was good or not so good at the end of the day…and you’ll have a big headache in the morning.
  2. Have a designated driver who is not drinking or come with a tour group. Don’t be so naïve to think that you can taste wine all day and still drive safely. Either have one person in your party be the designated driver, or better yet, hire one of the wine touring companies in the area to take you to the wineries you wish to visit.
  3. Make notes about the wines you taste. Take good notes about what you like and what you don’t like. Don’t depend on your memory after you’ve visited multiple wineries and tasted several wines at each stop. Obviously, a tasting room that provides a handout listing the wines you are tasting makes note taking much easier.
  4. No cheese or chocolate while you taste wine. Save it for later. In one of our first wine country trips many years ago, we came across a winery where the winemaker insisted that we eat different cheeses with each of the wines we tasted. We were not only impressed with the cheeses, but the wines tasted good, too, so we bought more wine than we should have to bring home. Boy were we surprised when the same wines that tasted so good at the winery with cheese tasted terrible by themselves and finished at or close to the bottom in our blind tastings. Research at UC Davis has validated what we realized after our experience mixing wine and cheese:

    “Eating cheese ruins the flavors of wine and makes fine vintages indistinguishable from cheap plonk. While the two are often served together in the belief they make a sophisticated combination, scientists have discovered even expert tasters could not distinguish between wines after eating cheese.”

    And I believe that you can virtually ditto the above comments for chocolate.

  5. Be friendly and polite and respect the time of those who work at the winery. Remember, you are probably not their only visitor today. This simple tip can often result in service above and beyond the call of duty from the person behind the counter. And, even if it doesn’t, it’s just good manners.
  6. Buy only one or two bottles today of a wine you like. When you find a wine you like, just buy a bottle or two to start with, not a case. Then take your favorites home and compare them side-by-side in a blind tasting. Then buy a case or two of your proven favorites.
  7. Don’t put the wines you buy in the trunk of your car. When do most of us visit wine tasting rooms and go on winery tours? Why, in the heat of the summer, of course. Do you realize how quickly a bottle of wine is ruined by summer heat? I tasted a wine that had spent only six hours in the trunk of a car on a 90-degree day, and it was baked, totally ruined as a drinkable wine. This is also another good reason that we recommend that you only buy a bottle or two while at the winery instead of cases. At least then if you ruin your wine in the car, it’ll only be a few bottles. But remember, you want to get even the few bottles home safely so that you can compare the wines and give them a fair chance in a blind tasting. If you anticipate buying wine and must store it in your trunk, bring along an insulated box or cooler with ice packs to keep the wine cool.

If both the winery personnel and visitors follow these suggestions and tips, I believe that touring wine country will be some of the favorite times of your life, and the wineries will sell more wine.

Please share your experiences and any tips you have for visiting wine country in the comments.



San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Winners

We are proud of the following wineries and the awards they earned at the San Francisco Wine Competition in January 2011:

Martin-Scott Winery:  Silver medals on 2008 Malbec and 2006 Merlot

Saint Laurent Estate Winery:  Gold Medals on 2007 Merlot and 2007 Estate Syrah; Silver Medals on 2009 Estate Riesling and 2008 Chardonnay

Horan Estates Winery:   Double Gold medal on 2006 HVH Red Blend and Bronze medal on 2006 CWM Syrah

Milbrandt Vineyards:  Gold Medal on 2009 Pinot Gris and Silver Medal on 2006 Syrah

Congratulations on these awards!



Malaga Springs Winery is now open!

Al & Kathy Mathews announce the opening of their winery above Three Lakes Golf Course, Malaga Springs Winery!  This beautiful winery offers Cabernet Franc, Syrah,  a Reserve Syrah, Zinfandel, a Zinfandel/Syrah blend, Viognier, Chenin Blanc, a Sangiovese Rose, and Muscat Canelli dessert wine.  Malaga Springs is open Wednesday and Thursday noon to 5 (please call 679-0152 first), and  Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from noon-6 p.m. (no call necessary), or by appt.  To get there, take the Malaga Highway and turn towards Three Lakes Golf Course.  Go up Hamlin Rd, and turn right at the stop at Joe Miller Rd.  Take a left at the hairpin curve, which is Cathedral Rock Rd.  They have a lovely tasting room with beautiful gifts and wines for you to enjoy.  Cheers to the newest winery on the block!


Don't you just love the holidays?

It's just one big excuse to drink wine!  And wine makes wonderfully special gifts, too!  Be sure to take advantage of buying and shipping wines as gifts to friends and family.  Washington wines are getting a lot of notice, and the wineries at Columbia River Wine Contry are no exception.  Cheers to a fabulous holiday season!   


Pairing Wine with Turkey

Pairing Chateau Faire Le Pont Wine with Turkey

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Slow Cooked Pulled Pork

RECIPE: Slow Cooked Pulled Pork. Serve with Fielding Hills Cabernet Franc.

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Scallop, Orange and Fennel Salad with Peppery Citrus Dressing  

RECIPE: Scallop, Orange and Fennel Salad with Peppery Citrus Dressing - Serve with Saint Laurent Winery Riesling

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Flank Steak with Corn-Tomato Relish and Grilled Garlic Bread 

RECIPE: Flank Steak with Corn-Tomato Relish and Grilled Garlic Bread. Serve with White Heron Cellars Syrah

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