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Dos and Don’ts of Wine Tasting

By Susan Clark Porter

With Memorial Day signaling the unofficial start of summer, Finger Lakes wineries are gearing up for the start of their busy season.

To make those trips around the wine trails as enjoyable as possible, here are a few tips from winery workers.

Don’t overindulge

Erica Paolicelli, general manager of Three Brothers Winery in Geneva, said people who are visiting the wineries on tour buses or limos are often inclined to imbibe and have a good time between stops. It may be fun in the moment, but it can catch up to you.

“I don’t think people realize that you can ruin your own experience that way and that of people around you,” she said.

Be polite if a wine doesn’t strike your fancy.

Paolicelli said it’s perfectly fine not to like a wine you sample, but don’t make a verbal fuss about it.

“That can make it unpleasant for the people you are with,” she said, suggesting that a discreet dumping of it is preferable.

Appreciate your flavor profile.

If you’re a dry-wine drinker, try wines in those range and not super-sweet ones.

“It’s OK to say, ‘That’s not me,’” Paolicelli said when selecting wines to taste.

Erin Rafalowski, marketing manager at Heron Hill Winery on the Keuka Wine Trail, noted your palate can also become overwhelmed when trying so many different styles of wine on one tasting tour. She suggests sticking to one varietal one day and trying another on a different day. That makes it easier to compare different wineries’ versions of the same wine.

Plan to eat.

Paolicelli said it’s important to know when and where you will eat, since you may find yourself in a more secluded part of the wine trail when you get hungry. She recalled some guests who came in once and said, “We have some really grumpy people in our car because they’re starving.”

Rafalowski said many wineries offer snacks for sale and some have bistros where you can order lunch. Several on the Keuka Wine Trail also have picnic tables, so visitors can plan ahead and bring a meal with them.

Paolicelli noted it’s always a good idea to pack snacks and there are plenty of pull-offs along the trail where drivers can stop and enjoy a beautiful view while refueling.

Decide on your driver before the tour starts.

A simple suggestion, but one that will save lives.

Buy wine.

“This isn’t just go out and drink,” Paolicelli said. “We’re here because we’re finding something you like to take home with you. … It’s not like you go to a restaurant and don’t order food. We’re here to teach you about the wine and help.”

Rafalowski said if you like a particular wine, buy several bottles to stock up since there’s no guarantee it will be available at your local liquor store.

Don’t be afraid to tip the tasting-room staff.

Rafalowski said the pouring staff spends time educating themselves about the wines and strives to make the tasting experience enjoyable and educational. If you feel like you learned something and had a good time, tips are appropriate, she said.

Remember wineries are private property.

Paolicelli said sometimes people treat wineries like a public recreational area, grabbing a Frisbee from the car and tossing it around.

“If you want to do that, go to a state park,” she said. “We have vines that can be damaged and people walking around.”

Know the calendar.

Rafalowski said more intimate tasting experiences can be found on weekdays during the busy season, or maybe later on a Sunday afternoon. Saturday afternoons tend to be the busiest times, she said.

Also, parties of 10 or more should call ahead to make a tasting reservation and also be prepared to split up should a winery be busy at the time they arrive.

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