Attending a Wine Tasting
It can be intimidating when you're invited to attend your very first wine tasting. Here are how wine tastings tend to be run, and what to expect!
First, most wine tastings are extremely casual events. They are often set up in a tent, in a hall or other function area. The wine distributors have long, low tables on which they have their bottles of wine. You are given a glass as you enter the function area (and pay your money!!) and that glass is what you carry around with you. You move from table to table carrying the glass. You're moving through a crowd of laughing, drinking people as you do so.
So instruction number one is to never wear white :). You might get wine on you at some point. Don't wear high heels! Go for easy walking shoes, and I'd go for close-toed myself just to protect your toes. Wear dark colors. Things get spilled, people stumble backwards. I'm not saying it's like a cattle stampede, but this is not the situation to be teetering around in your vintage white lace outfit.
You usually are given a map of which wineries are located where. If not, try to scan the room and see which wines you'd like to try first. Most people start with sparkling wines, then go to white wines, then red wines, then heavy alcohol wines like ports. The reason is that your tongue gets burnt out after a while. Say you began with heavy tannic reds that coated your tongue like leather. Then you tried to taste a sparkling wine. The sparkling wine would now taste like leather. By starting with the light wines, you have half a chance of actually tasting their flavors before the heavier wines coat your tongue.
So you find a sparkling wine table you want to visit. You walk up to that table - or depending on the crowd, you wait your turn until the table is ready to serve you. There will be a person behind the table whose purpose is to talk and serve. He will tell you about the wines they have available - how the chardonnay is buttery, how the cabernet is spicy. You choose which one you want to try. Again it's quite fine and normal to go table-hopping to try a series of sparkling wines, then to do another loop for white wines and so on. It's completely up to you.
So you choose a wine. The person will pour a taste into your glass. Their aim here is not to pour full glasses! You'd be drunk after a few pours. Instead, the aim is for you to taste the wine and see if you like it or not. I highly recommend carrying a little notebook with you. You'll never remember at the end of the day what you liked and didn't like otherwise. A key purpose of the tasting is for you to learn more about your own tastes. Every person is different - we all like different flavors. What you love, someone else may not enjoy, and that's fine. You only need to care about which ones you found perfect for you. So you write down any notes about the wines you enjoy.
Then you pour out the rest - they always have pour / spit buckets available - and move on.
Every once in a while it's a good idea to drink some water and to rinse out your glass. That gives you the best ability to taste the subsequent wines. Also if they have food try to eat some occasionally. However, stay away from cheese if you can. Cheese changes the flavors of wine and mellows them out. A wine you normally would not like might taste tolerable with cheese, and when you bought some of the wine and tried it later on you'd wonder why you ever got it.
Don't feel nervous at all about what you like or don't like, what you taste or don't taste. It is all completely subjective. You could taste chocolate while someone else tastes violets and that is perfectly fine. Your tongue is your own tongue. You could love white zinfandel while someone else loves pinot noir. That's fine too.
The main purpose of these tastings is to have fun, to hang out with friends, and to try a few wines to see if you like any of them. It is very casual and relaxed. Nobody will be "watching you" to see what you are doing. If anything, after 20 minutes or so the room will be full of laughing, merry people who barely notice what THEY are tasting :)
NOTE: There are also more formal tasting events where you are fed a meal at a restaurant and each dish is paired with a wine or two. Those are not wine tastings as much as they are meals with wine, and there is no real etiquette involved in those. You just eat your meal as usual and maybe tell your table mates if you like a certain wine or not.
Hosting a Wine Tasting
Wine Basics Main Page