Yes, I’m advocating that you start drinking/spitting wine as early in the day as possible. Your taste buds are the freshest in the morning. Just as you are the most refreshed in the morning, so is your tasting palate, granted you didn’t eat a huevos rancheros with ghost or habanero peppers prior for breakfast.
When I know that a winery only accepts reservations as they might be too small for the public, I do what I can to get an earlier in the day reservation.
If you’re the first tasting party of the day, there’s no one before you that can run late. It’s a great feeling to roll up at the winery and be one of the first tasters in. The wines are fresh, the sun is still below noon and you’re ready to go. Your taste buds are in high gear (except if you ate those ghost peppers) and you’re off to a great start.
It’s also helpful to be prompt to your first tasting appointment. Being late from the get-go means that you have to either rush through your tasting to make it to your next port of call or you have to knock a winery off your list to accommodate your overall time.
Take advantage of the tasting staff’s knowledge of other regions. Chances are probably good to great that you have an itinerary of where you want to go during the day. We are creatures of habit and are comfortable going to places where we have been. While you might have had an itinerary planned out, it never hurts to ask the staff where to go after tasting at their winery.
If your appointment is at 4:00 or 4:30 in the afternoon, while they might recommend a great hidden gem, you’re not going to get it in that day. Versus if your tasting is in the morning, you have time to adjust your route. Most wineries have some sort of map to get you there (and you probably have some sort of GPS, either in your car or on your phone).
The great part about a private or limited tasting is you can spend some time with the tasting staff talking about where to go next. Give yourself that time to ask those questions and your private tasting might just go from good to amazing.
Call the winery if you are running late, even if it is in the morning. They know life gets in the way. I remember once my car battery literally died at the winery prior to the place where I had an appointment. The first call was to AAA (an automobile roadside assistance company). The second call was to the winery. They know things happen.
Sometimes we can’t plan for traffic or car issues. Even while you may have accounted for everything, sometimes a big-rig can break down on the highway snarling your drive up to the winery. The good thing about tasting in the morning is there is less traffic on the roads in the morning, and while you can never predict traffic with 100% accuracy, you can lessen your chances for congestion if you leave earlier in the day.
Most wine tasters are starting to get going around 11 or 12. If you can get out the door at 10 or 10:30 for that first appointment, you can beat the rush into the wine country. This is more important if you are traveling through more congested wine roads, such as the main highway in the Napa Valley or on Highway 29 in Sonoma.
After your first or second winery, you can stop and take a leisurely lunch. On busier weekends you’ll find restaurants just as crowded as the roads around them. It happens. In general, good food can be found around good wine. The good restaurants and delis are worth the wait (that includes the Dry Creek General Store which happens to be only deli inside of Dry Creek).
Taking a leisurely lunch break also gives you time to hydrate yourself along with the food. It’s tempting to have a glass of wine with your food. But chances are good you’re probably not drinking enough water while wine tasting. Let’s be honest. We all like to say we are, but in reality we don’t always. Lunch gives you time to re-hydrate yourself.
More and more you’ll find less and less water on the tasting counter. That’s not because the winery doesn’t want you to drink water but because they would rather have you rinse with wine over it. The old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind,” comes into play for both rinsing and consuming. While it does help to preserve the viscosity of the wine in your glass, it also helps to make you forget to drink a glass of water in between wine tastings.
Grab a bottle of water (or finish the one you brought) while you’re at lunch. Then go out for your last few places before closing time.
Overall, you’ll find a much more pleasant experience wine tasting if you try to schedule wine appointments as early as possible in the day. It sets the tone for the day and let’s you enjoy your day of wine tasting all that much more. Yes, I am advocating for drinking/spitting before noon.