The Cellar Door Etiquette

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Photo by Hunter Valley, New South Wales

To help make the most of your cellar door visits, here the team at Winecraft and Gourmet Traveller WINE answer frequently asked questions.

Judy Sarris

When is the best time to visit cellar doors?

It's important to check opening times as cellar doors they vary from place to place, plus there are some, especially smaller operations, that open by appointment only. Check each cellar door’s profile on Winecraft to see if you need to book.

Do I have to book to visit to cellar door?

Most are happy for up to six people to simply turn up for a standard tasting at the bench. If there are more than six of you, it is wise to book to ensure there is enough staff on board to cater for your group.

Do tastings vary at different cellar doors?

Besides standard tastings, some cellar doors have structured tastings, museum tastings, master classes and blending sessions and the like that can be booked in advance. These generally cater for varying budgets and levels of interest. You may also be able to book winery and vineyard tours or, for example, Primo Estate offer tastings of their olive oils as well as their wines.

Is there any dress code for cellar door visits?

You're not dressing up to visit a cocktail bar nor are you dressing down for a beach barbecue. Smart casual attire is best. You may want to avoid white or light garments if you're about to taste a series of red wines. If a winery or vineyard tour is on the agenda, flat closed in shoes are recommend

Are tastings at cellar doors free?

Standard tastings may be free or may attract a small fee that is redeemable of purchase of wine. On top of standard tastings, some cellar doors offer special tastings of museum, icon or top range wines for a fee. Many of the larger wineries have a whole range of winery experiences that can be booked for a fee.

How do I decide what wines to taste?

Smaller wineries may only have a small selection on offer, whereas larger operations could well have more. Explain to the staff what style of wines and varieties that are possibly of interest and then be led by them. If you don’t know what you like, be adventurous and take recommendations from the staff.

How many wines should I taste at a cellar door?

Unless you are an experienced taster, it's a good idea to stick to around 8 wines ( 8 pours) which equate to around two full glasses of wine. Keep this in mind if you are driving. This way, you will avoid palate fatigue and remain in good form for the rest of the day.

In what order do I taste wines?

In general, perhaps begin with a palate cleanser such as a sparkling or a light white such riesling or sauvignon blanc, work your way through to heavier whites like chardonnay, then on to roses, lighter reds such as pinot noir or gamay followed by bigger reds such as shiraz and cabernet sauvignon and then fortifieds if available. If you are not a fan of certain varieties leave them out completely. Feel free to taste only what you are interested in.

How do I taste wine?

Give the wine a swirl in the glass and stick your nose in the bowl of the glass to take in the aromas. It's fun to think about what fragrances you can detect. First time tasters are often quite good at this. Take a mouthful of wine and think about what you taste. The staff will give you some pointers about what to expect.

How do you use a spittoon?

This something that's fun to practice at home using water. You'll soon get the hang of it. Once you've swirled the wine around in your mouth and appreciated the flavours, pucker up and discreetly spit into the vessel provided. This may sound daunting, but everyone does it. Don’t be shy.

What happens if I don't like a wine?

Simply say it's not to your taste. Everyone likes different wines and there's nothing wrong with that. Remember, if you don’t like the first shiraz you taste, it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t like shiraz at all. You will come across many different variations and vintages of the same grape variety,

Will it be awkward if I taste wines and then don't buy anything?

There’s no need feel pressured to buy anything. But, keep in mind some wines you taste may not be available elsewhere, so you might like to take advantage of picking a bottle or two up. If you have paid for a tasting, the cost may be redeemable on your purchase.

How do I remember what wines I like?

It's always a good idea to take note of wine you like or photograph the labels on your phone for future reference. Try to take note of the blend or varietal as well as the region, winery and vintage the wine comes from. Wines from the same vineyard will taste different from one year to the next.

Will wineries ship wines to me?

Most wineries will ship wines to you. You usually need to buy a minimum of a case. On occasions, some wineries have an arrangement with neighbouring wineries in the region whereby they band together in order to ship a mixed case to you.

If I don't buy wine on the day, how can I find wines I liked in the future?

Ask to be put on the winery's mailing list or visit the winery website.

Can I take photographs among the vines?

While wineries love guests sharing photographs of their wonderful cellar doors and vineyards, it is important not to step into any vineyard without permission from the winery. Some of the tiny bugs and insects that may hitch a ride on your footwear can literally decimate vines when introduced into the vineyard.

Keep our vines and wines safe

Australia has some of the oldest winegrape vines in the world. Your shoes and clothing can pick up and spread pests and diseases, including phylloxera. Please don’t walk amongst our vines. Help protect the vines that make our special wines. For more information about vineyard biosecurity visit www.vinehealth.com.au/tourism