Because of the restrictions necessitated by the pandemic, all tastings in California’s wineries are by appointment and they are all seated, outdoor tastings. [As we went to press, California allowed some indoor tasting.] If the weather is right, these can be quite enjoyable. But they are different than bellying up to the bar and trying what’s available that day. Seated tastings were beginning to be a trend even before Covid-19, with distinct plusses and minuses.
Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor.
So, in the spirit of the times, we’d like to offer a few tips for seated tastings.
- Some tastings are just for you. Assuming that you are travelling with your significant other, that means the tasting is made up of the two of you, a table, several glasses and bottles and the server. It is very difficult in these circumstances for the two of you to share candid appraisals of what you are being served. You probably can’t even be comfortable frowning after sipping and then pouring the wine out. If you came intending to try their famous Cabernet Sauvignon and they insist on starting you with the Chardonnay, you’re stuck. So just remember that’s the way they do it and move ahead.
- Other tastings are with a group. It may feel like a party, but it’s not a party. A little polite conversation is always acceptable, but your opinions are best kept quietly to yourselves. We two know each other’s tastes and may say, “I think this is your style”. But when some previously overserved stranger is intent on singing the praises of a Sauvignon Blanc that turns you off, reply with “Glad you enjoy it” and turn your attention to the person you came with.
- It’s harder to have any little special somethings. One of the benefits of being an informed wine taster is that good servers often have something hidden away that they save for people who they think will appreciate it. It’s tough for a server to reach under the bar when there is no bar. What has worked to our advantage on a few occasions is to ask for something that isn’t on their list (a dessert wine, for example) and if it’s available, the server may bring you a little at the end. But it’s difficult to do that when there are still people at nearby tables.
- The best seated tastings make you feel special. As is often the case, the pleasure of a tasting comes down to the quality of the server. We have experienced a server who just radiated that we were her tenth seated tasting of the week and she couldn’t wait for Friday afternoon. But we have also had more than a few who drew out our interest in wine, shared theirs with us, and generally made us feel more like a guest than a customer. Of course, it helped that they were serving very good wine, which is often the case with seated tastings. We left with a warm feeling not just for the server, but for the winery itself.