Paso Robles Wine Tasting- Tips on Etiquette, Cost, and What to Expect

The quaint town of Paso Robles, nestled in the mountains of California, boasts a multitude of wineries, complete with a subculture of wine tastings and vineyard tours (either hired or on your own). Our “Do-It-Yourself” wine tasting tour included several vineyards, from well-known to well-hidden treasures.  

In just a few short hours, we went from trepidatious newbies to well-groomed tasters (well, we think we aren’t banned anywhere, anyway). 

Bottom line? It isn’t hard, isn’t expensive, but it is fun.  

Why do vineyards have wine tastings?

  • Product exposure
    • The vinyards we visited had limited sales of their wines. The wines could be purchased at the vineyard and a few select stores, but aren’t mass produced for sale at grocery stores, for example. The tasting rooms allow for product sampling before making a purchase.
  • Education
    • Each place we visited seemed truly interested in teaching us about their wines. From the kinds of grapes and the way they were gown to the history of the vineyard and the philosophy of the wine maker- we learned so much.
  • Club Memberships
    • The wineries we visited each had a club membership program. Members are generally offered the wines at discounted prices along with other perks, including special wine bottle opening parties (which sounded like a lot of fun!). There weren’t any hard sells to become a club member. In fact, there was generally no mention of the clubs unless we asked. Unfortunately for us, most of the clubs had waiting lists for accepting new members. Read here for information about some of the clubs.

    What happens at a wine tasting?

    This was the part we were the most nervous about, since neither of us had any background in wine tasting. I read some articles on the way to Paso Robles, but none really helped us know what to expect. Thankfully, the server at the first winery we visited gave us a brief instructional on wine tasting etiquette, putting us completely at ease. Here was our experience:

    • Greeting
      • At each tasting room, our server would:
        • Offer us the wine tasting menu
          • The menus explained, in order of presentation, the wines in that day’s tasting, including the names of the wines, the types of grapes used (and their date picked), and a few sentences about the expected flavors and aroma.
        • Ask how many glasses we wanted
          • They weren’t asking how many glasses we wanted to drink. What they were really asking is if we each planned to have our own glass for sampling or if we would be sharing a glass.
            • Each winery had a slightly different fee (listed on the menu) for the sampling glass. In general, we paid between $10-$15 per sampling glass.
            • The sampling glass was reused for each new wine pour in that specific tasting room. So the single glass we shared for $10 was all we paid to sample 4-5 wines at the first tasting room.
    • The wine tasting
      • Standing room only
        • Three of the four wineries we visited only offered standing areas. Most were hard floors (only one was carpeted).
      • Order of the wines
        • The wineries we visited all offered both white wines and reds. The tastings starting with the white wines and worked their way up to the reds. After we had tasted all the wines on the menu, two wineries offered us tasting from a special bottle of wine that wasn’t normally on the menu.
      • Tasting etiquette
        • The tastings were unpretentious and simple. A small portion was poured into our glass to enjoy. If we disliked it, we could simply pour the rest into a designated container on the counter. (Also, if there was a specific type of wine that we didn’t want to sample, we just notified the server. For example, white wines give me headaches, so I didn’t want to sample any of the white wine offerings).
        • During this time, the servers shared a wealth of knowledge about the wines and the vineyards.
        • Once we were done with the first sample, a new wine was poured into our glass. Glass rinses between wines were not offered, but we couldask for one, if we wanted.
        • After all the wines were sampled, if there was one we were particularly interested in, we were able to ask for another taste.
    • Chance to purchase
      • Any of the wines were available to purchase, often at a discount. Generally, it was only gently mentioned, if at all. Out of the four wineries we visited, only one of them was pushy about wine sales (and it was also the most commercialized of the tasting rooms).
        • Cost:
          • The wines we tasted were between $30-50 per bottle. Our purchase price, however, would be reduced by the tasting glass fee. So for a $10 shared tasting glass fee, numerous samples of wine, and the purchase of a $30 bottle of wine, our total cost would be $30.
    Three bottles of wine purchased at our wine tasting. They are in dark bottles with bright cork wrappers of red or gold.

            Overall Experience:

            Our overall experience tasting wines at vineyards in Paso Robles was very positive. The wineries we visited were unpretentious and welcoming. We visited four wineries, spending a total of $45 in tasting glass fees. We also chose to purchase a few bottles of wine, but never felt pressured to make any purchases.

            If you’ve been holding off on wine tasting tours for fear of breaking etiquette or due to cost concerns, I hope this review has eased your mind. If you’ve visited any of the Paso Robles tasting rooms, let us know about your experience in the comments, below!

            Winery Reviews

            For more information, I’ve posted reviews of the specific wineries we visited, such as the Fratelli Perata Winery (our favorite overall experience), Herman Story Wines (oh, so good), and Sextant Wines.

            Happy Travels! 

            Miffie

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