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Insider tips for planning your wine tasting tours

By Robyn Lewis
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Cellar Door at Brown Brothers, King Valley, Victoria

Cellar Door at Brown Brothers, King Valley, Victoria

Cellar Door at Cape Jaffa Wines, Limestone Coast Road, Mount Benson
Crittenden Estate - wine tasting with Duncan and Fiona
Vasse Felix cellar door
Cellar door wine tasting at the De Bortoli winery in the Yarra Valley


When you head into wine country for a few days’wine tastings, lunches and fun, whether you’re a novice or an experienced wine taster you can always get more from your vineyard visits with a bit of preparation.

For the uninitiated, cellar doors can be intimidating, especially if they are big and have dozens of wine available for tasting. Where to start? What to ask? Fortunately, the days of Staff With Attitude are almost behind us, but it always helps to prepare yourself in advance, and follow a few simple guidelines (most of which are common sense, really). 

And we all want a story to tell our friends! Maximise your chances of bringing home a good one (or lots) – as well as some unique, delicious wines – by doing the following:

  • Don’t drink and drive is number 1 of course – appoint a designated driver, and treat him/her to a something special at the end of the day (and shout them their lunch, buy them a bottle or two, contribute to the petrol of course). Or organise a mini-bus tour if that’s your thing. You don’t want to end up in hospital, or worse.
  • If you are driving, remember around 8 tastes equals 2 standard drinks if you don’t spit, so know your limits (in general, 2 standard drinks for women, 3 for men) and stop when you reach that. However even if you are spitting, your body will absorb some alcohol through your mouth, so err on the side of retaining your driver’s licence.
  • For the non-drivers in your group, plan on tasting around 8 wines per cellar door, which will take you ½ to 1 hour, depending on how much you talk about them with your friends and staff.
  • Take notes, photos of labels, the tasting notes etc, and/or use an app to record the wines and your and your friends’ impressions. You think you’ll remember, but believe us, 24+ tastes later, you probably won’t. (You can use our downloadable tasting template if you like hard copy notes, or use it as an editable pdf).

    Another ‘rule’ of ours is don’t aim for more than 4 cellar doors in one day – either two before and two after lunch, or maybe plan three before lunch then have the last tasting at your lunch venue of choice. (Unless you taste professionally of course, in which case depending on geography you might be able to pack in 8-10 or more without losing your palate’s edge.)
  • Use the spittoon, because after the first or second vineyard you visit, if you swallow don’t spit, it’s likely you won't remember much about the wines, your palate may get tired, you notes become illegible, and you might just totally overlook that wonderful gem at your last stop, not to mention potentially irritating your hosts, the fruits of whose labours you are enjoying. If you can’t see a spittoon, ask where it is.

    Taste the wine, savour it, then spit it out (more on both these later), and pour out the rest, don’t quaff the dregs.

  • Plan ahead for best results. Sure, you might just want to go with the flow a little, but we’ve all had the “oh if only I’d known that before I went” feeling, and a little bit of research on VisitVineyards and regional websites and apps can pay a lot of dividends, and help avoid disappointment when you find them closed, or full of big groups.

    We often book a lunch venue and work around that. At minimum pick your first destination, and maybe a couple more for later – you can always ask them for another local recommendation, e.g. for a particular type of wine you enjoy. Some of our best finds had been made that way!
  • If you are in a group of 6 or more, phone ahead (or email or text) and book. And arrive when you say you will. That way you’ll get better attention, maybe miss a crowd, and the cellar door can put on extra staff if necessary.
  • If you have kids, that’s less of an issue to many cellar doors now than even five years ago. Start by searching child-friendly cellar doors to visit here – many now have playgrounds, sandpits, indoor areas, some have wifi, one even has a zoo! Take the children’s fave toys, iPads (with headphones), colouring books or whatever, so you can taste while they have fun too.
  • Tell the staff you found them on VisitVineyards! A little love goes a long way; plus they’ll look after you, as it shows you’re wine-interested. And if you are a member of an auto club (RAC, NRMA etc) and visiting vineyards in Victoria or Tasmania, check them out on RACV.VisitVineyards.com, and if listed, claim your exclusive discount or special bonuses at participating cellar doors.

On top of these basics, there’s a lot more to learn, and who better to ask than other wine travellers? So we asked our subscribers for their hints and tips for places to visit in wine country – and got 60 pages of responses! Too many to give you here, so this is the beginning of a new series, starting with some general tips and leading on to top picks and recommendations for each Australian state and major wine region, from the people who know best: recent wine travellers.

More to follow soon (including the big no-nos!). Meanwhile, relax and enjoy – and at the cellar door, don’t feel pressured or intimidated. Go with an open mind, and remember it’s about fun, learning and enjoying the experience.

We love wine tastings, which are some of the best experiences in our beautiful wine regions, and more than a million others in Australia agree! So, what are you waiting for?

Check out some more tips from our subscribers below.

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May 10th, 2016
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