Wine tasting is intimate, which is what makes it so wonderful . . . and yet so intimidating. Part of the pressure of this intimacy lies in our lack of knowledge about wine, which can make for awkward silences and nervousness. Not to worry: here are some questions that you can ask during a wine tasting that will help you understand a little more about the wine making process and help you avoid being tongue-tied. Then you can relax and focus on the important part of tasting wine: being social, drinking something delicious, and having fun!
Questions to ask during a wine tasting
Questions regarding wines that are a blend
If the wine is a blend of two or more grapes, ask what each of these varietals brings to the wine. Maybe you’re smelling cherries in the wine: which varietal is bringing this characteristic? Sometimes, even the smallest amount (2%) can change a wine. Ask why and learn a little about how these varietals can make big differences.
Example: Which of the wines contribute to the (cherry/dark fruit/jam) I am smelling?
If the wine is a mix of varietals, ask if they always have the same percentage of each grape. Perhaps the year before, they used more or less. The wine maker or winery employ will be glad to explain why they chose this composition.
Example: Did you use the same composition of varietals in the wine last year?
Questions regarding barrels/aging
Part of the flavor profile often includes a description of whether or not the (typically red) wine was aged in French or American oak barrels, and for how long. To understand the importance of this part of the wine making process, click here.
Example: What flavors do the American/French oak barrels impart?
Example: In past years, have you aged the wine for the same amount of time?
White wines will often not have any barrel aging (or minimal barrel aging) and are instead fermented in large vats. Feel free to ask about how these wines are fermented and aged, and see if you can pick up any flavors that the oak has imparted into the wine if it indeed has barrel contact.
Example: Does this wine have any contact with barrels? For how long? And how does that change the wine?
Questions on vineyard practices
Grapes are harvested in the fall. If you’re wine tasting any time between February and the harvest season, ask about the weather for this year and how they think it will affect the vintage. Overwatering is bad for grapes, so a particularly rainy season could cause worry for winemakers. Additionally, if it’s been a typically dry season (hello, California) you could ask if they irrigate their vineyards, and how often.
Example: Is the drought in California affecting your grapes?
Example: I heard that there will be an El Niño storm next winter. Will this affect your grapes at all?
Questions about the grounds/the winery
The grounds themselves are often something that wineries are proud of. In addition, each winery has a story. Learning the story is often more interesting than the wine itself!
Example: When was this winery founded?
Example: Do you know what wines they made at the beginning?
Questions regarding pairings
It’s always a safe bet to ask what foods a wine would pair best with. Or, go the other way and explain your favorite dish to make, and ask them which wine they would serve with it.
Example: What would you pair this with?
Example: I make a delicious beef stew with peppers. Which wine would you recommend serving with it?
Another idea is to pair by season.
Example: What’s your go-to summer/winter/spring/fall wine?
Questions regarding sparkling wine
As discussed in our Overview of Sparkling Wine, there are several different ways to put the bubbles into the wine. Ask them about this process and they will talk all day. Don’t be intimidated because you don’t know the terminology: the staff is there to teach you!
Example: Silly question, but . . . how do you get the bubbles into the wine?
Example: I heard that there are several different ways of producing the bubbles in sparkling wine. Could you explain your process?
Why do you use this particular bottle shape?
(If using screwtops or plastic corks) How long have you used these synthetic corks? (Customers are often unhappy about these corks, but winemakers love them: they reduce the possibility of wine taint drastically and are a great business practice, albeit one that takes all the fun out of opening a bottle.)
(If the label is interesting) Could you tell me a little about this label design?
If I buy this wine, is there a time frame in which I should drink it? Can it/should it be aged?
For more information on wines and wine tasting, check out our Wine Tips for Beginners article on Hello Giggles, or browse Sedimentality for our articles on Pairings, Aromas in Wine, and How Wine is Made. Be sure to check out our Variety Focus to learn about the most commonly grown grapes. Happy drinking!