What to Expect at a Wine Tasting 🍷
The County is home to more than 40 wineries, most with tasting rooms where you can sip samples of what’s for sale, and some with cellars where – if you’re lucky – you can barrel taste with the winemaker. Compared to other wine regions in Ontario, and Canada, The County’s vineyards tend to be smaller and the tasting experience more intimate. Whether you’re filling your glass in a converted barn, bright modern building, dark cellar, or straw-bale structure, here’s how to prepare for your first foray into the Prince Edward County VQA.*
From Bubbles to Burgundy
The tasting room host will likely ask you to choose all of your tastings at once. This isn’t to force a quick decision, it’s so they can pour for you in an order that builds rather than dominates. The tasting menu is often set up this way, prompting you to pick in a logical order. They’ll likely pour from light to sweet to age, with lighter, fruitier wines first and more bold flavours last.
Sip and Savour
Keep in mind that wine experts suggest tasting a wine first with your eyes, then your nose and then your mouth. So go slow, pick up the glass, give it a swish and a sniff and you’ll be well on your way.
Ask as many questions as you like – tasting room staff have been trained to understand the process of growing, harvesting, bottling and fermenting the grapes and they’re happy to be asked sincere questions. In busier months, you’ll likely need to share them and their expertise, so don’t be afraid to eavesdrop and add to the conversation.
Also, be prepared to pay for your tasting. Some, but not all, wineries will waive a tasting fee with the purchase of wine. Be sure to ask about pricing up front and be prepared to spend anywhere from $1 to $3 per sample.
“A nose of… melted pine needles and burnt toast?”
The wine world has a lot of words, from “nose” (the wine’s bouquet) to “legs” (the amount of alcohol trickling down the sides of a swished glass) to “plonk” (that stuff you drank in college, when you couldn’t afford any better). There’s an entire glossary worth of descriptors covering everything from a wine’s acidity to its balance, or how well the alcohol, acidity, tannin and sweetness are working together. The terminology could set one’s head spinning, never mind the actual wine.
So don’t be afraid to take a leap when describing a wine’s flavour. Everyone’s palate is different and what stands out for you may be too subtle for others to notice. Your tasting room host will likely prompt you to watch for one taste or another – and if they’ve said something you don’t understand, ask them about it. Soon you’ll be riffing on moody cherry notes and hints of citrus like an absolute poet. Here’s how to look like a pro!
Prepare to Pair
Curious which wine would go best with your double-cream brie? Spicy curry? Salt ‘n vinegar chips? Some wineries invite you to explore the world of pairings between wine and food with strategically chosen small samples that accompany your tasting. Be sure to ask if pairings are available and the cost associated.
Looking for something a little more substantial? Scope out wineries with on-site kitchens or catering to help you fuel up along the way.
Leave What You Like
You don’t have to spit. Once you’ve fully tasted a wine, you can leave what you don’t want in the glass. This is true even when the wine is a winner. You’ll likely be tasting a lot over the day, so feel free to leave a little in the glass if you’d rather enjoy it later, in a deck chair, with a big block of cheese. Hate to see good wine go to waste? Let the tasting room staff know you’d prefer a smaller pour.
Give it a Second Glance
The beauty of The County’s viticulture is that it’s still evolving. As the vines become more established, their flavours change. So if the wines at a particular vineyard don’t appeal to you one year, try it again the next. There are so many factors that can influence a wine’s taste, from its colour, sugar, acidity and tannins to the growing conditions of the grapes to the amount of skin contact during fermentation, the blend with other grapes, and the type of cellaring it’s received. Try not to write off a wine – the next vintage could be your favourite.
Drink plenty of water, especially if you’re cycling from winery to winery. Avoid heading back to your B&B and sinking into a warm bath. The combination of wine, too little water and all that heat will have you on the floor. Trust me.
While you’re at it, ensure you’ve got a designated driver or arrange to participate in a wine tour that shuttles you to and from tastings rooms – most even offer pick-up and drop-off service to your accommodations.
Ready to get tasting? Download the Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association guide to start tour planning, and consider attending The County’s one-stop-shop for wine sampling:
*VQA stands for “Vintners Quality Alliance.” In Ontario, it’s the independent authority that establishes and monitors the “appellation of origin” system, which defines grape-growing regions and sets standards for the wines produced there. Bottles labelled as VQA Prince Edward County contain mostly grapes grown here.
Content Updated March 2019