“Can I have a straw,” “That costs how much,” “Does it come in green” and other important questions along with a few serious ones.
Here are a few questions I would suggest asking if you want to learn more about the wines you’re tasting. But again, please feel free to ask any question that pops into your head. Wine and wine tastings should be fun, not a chore.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF WINE TASTINGS
But before we get to a few suggested questions, I thought it might be important to distinguish between different types of wine tastings. Because where you are – and who you’re with – could make a dramatic difference in the questions you might ask about the wine.
In my experience, there are five types of wine tastings.
1) Wine tasting often hosted by a wine store featuring a wide variety of wines – This is a very common wine tasting, often hosted by many wine stores, sometimes once a week. Hopefully, the person serving the wines knows something about them. But that might not always be the case. If so, trust your own instincts and your taste buds.
2) Wine tasting often hosted by a wine store featuring on particular type of wine – A slightly less common wine tasting, but one that can be fascinating to discover the subtle differences between different wines from the same wine region. Here, the people serving these wines often know a fair bit about them. Ask them questions. I’m sure they’ll love to talk about wines they’re clearly passionate about.
3) Wine tasting at a winery – This is a great way to learn about wine, especially if the wine maker is there to talk about their wines. You’ll also get to see where the grapes are grown, which can greatly enhance your understanding of the wine. Definitely ask the people questions, especially the winemaker. Most winemakers love talking about their wines.
4) Wine tasting hosted by a friend – Feel free to ask your friend questions. But please, also remember to have fun. You’re there to enjoy the wines hopefully, not quiz your friend about their wine knowledge.
5) Professional wine tasting hosted by a wine association – Imagine hundreds of different wines and only a two or three hours to taste all of them. Be prepared to taste fast, move quickly and often ask questions later. Do the math. If you only have 30 seconds to taste each wine, trust yourself and focus on how the wine tastes.
You can also find more tips on how to tackle a wine tasting in a wine column I wrote last year about this exact subject.
But that’s another topic for another day. Let’s get to the questions.
QUESTIONS TO ASK AT A WINE TASTING
“Where is this wine from?”
This question might not be necessary depending on the type of wine tasting. If you’re at the winery, you obviously know the origin of the wine. But even if you know that the wine is from California or France – or even somewhere more specific like Napa Valley or Burgundy – feel free to dig a little deeper. Ask what part of Napa or Burgundy or even what vineyard the wine’s from there. If the person answering your questions knows a lot about wine, feel free to ask them a few more questions.
“What type of soil are the grapes grown in?”
Many winemakers understand the importance of soil. In fact, many believe the soil composition is what makes their wine unique. Winemakers refer to this quality of the wine by talking about “terroir.” And they’re right. It’s amazing how much different soils can make a difference in how a wine tastes. Limestone in particular is God’s gift to winemakers. But there are many other soil types.
“What’s the landscape like where the grapes are grown?”
Here again, geography often plays a major role in what a wine tastes like. Many grapes are grown on steep hillsides, often facing a river or another source of water. That way, the grapes often soak up some of the water at night and drain properly due to the steep terrain. Other times, the soil may be flat. Or the grapes may be grown at high altitude or near sea level. Trust me. The more wine you taste, the more you may notice these subtle differences.
“What types of grapes were used to make this wine?”
Enough about geography. Here’s another basic question and one you likely won’t need to ask. This is especially tree for wines from the United States. Most wines are labeled based on the grape – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, etc. But in many other countries – especially France – wines are often organized based on location. There might not even be any indication on the bottle what grape was used to make the wine. Feel free to ask. You’re there to learn. Enjoy.
“What should I be noticing when I’m tasting this wine?”
I’m a firm believer in trusting your own instincts and not letting someone else influence your opinion of a wine. But sometimes, it’s interesting to find out what other people taste and smell when they’re drinking a wine. This is especially true if you’re talking to the winemaker. These wines are their pride and joy. Ask the winemaker questions. Let them talk. They created these wines. Discover what they love about them.
“What can you tell me about this winery?”
This is more of question for a wine tasting where you’re tasting wines from several different wineries. If you’re at the actual winery, it’s also fun to learn more about the winery’s history straight from the source. When was the winery founded? What was here before there was a winery? And first and foremost, if you’re talking to the winemaker, always make sure to ask this question, “Why did you decide to become a winemaker?” I never get tired of hearing their answers.
“Is this winery known for this wine?”
This question is more for a wine store tasting. Here, you might be tasting several different wines from several different wineries. If you like the wine you’re tasting but the winery is better know for a particular wine, write down the name of that wine or ask if you can taste it. You never know. You might just get to taste another great wine.
“Does this winery make any other wines?”
Here again, this question is more for a wine store tasting. If you’re at a winery, you can probably already see and taste all the other wines made there. If you’re at a store and you’re enjoying the wine, write down the name of the wine and the winery. Many times, many wineries have a certain house style. And if you like one bottle you might like many of their other wines.
“How was this wine aged?”
Like the soil the grapes are grown in, where and how the wine is aged can make a dramatic difference in how the wine tastes. First, how long was the wine aged before it was bottled? A few months? Longer? Then, where was the wine aged? In French Oak? American Oak? Steel tanks? Trust me. These things matter when it comes to how a wine tastes. And if you want to know, why not ask?
“Are you chewing gum?”
Trust me, if you ask this question, especially to a someone else tasting the wine, you may get a good laugh. It’s one of the funniest lines from “Sideways,” the best movie ever made about wine and the winos who love it.
“How much does this wine cost?”
Don’t be afraid to ask the question on many people’s minds, especially if you’re at a wine store. Fortunately, you probably won’t have to ask this question since most wine tastings have the price of the wine clearly written on a piece of paper or on a sign if you’re at a winery. And if you can afford the wine and you love it, my advice is buy it right then and there. Because there’s nothing worse than asking yourself this question a few weeks or months later, “What was I thinking?”