Paso Robles Wine Tasting- A First Timer’s Overview of 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 a very 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 IS fun.  

  • Why do vineyards even have tastings? 
    • There seem to be 3 goals: 
      • Most vineyards really wanted to teach us about their wines, the craft of their wine maker, the history of their grapes and the vineyard, etc. Anything we wanted to know, they were willing to impart. 
      • It helps draw people into their winery to possibly purchase bottles of wine then or in the future (there were no hard sells for purchases), and
      • Many wineries offer a club where members get a big discount on wine purchases along with several other perks, including special wine opening parties. There were NO hard sells for these memberships, at all. In fact, almost no one mentioned them. 
  • What happens at a wine tasting?
    • A server at the bar will greet you, present the wine tasting menu, and:
      • Ask how many glasses you want-
        • We found out fast they are NOT asking how many glasses we wanted to actually drink! THAT is pretty set- you get a sample from each wine on the menu….whether that is 4 or 6, etc. 
          • What they are really asking:

Is each person tasting with their own glass, or are you sharing the tasting glass?

This glass will be what they pour several different wine tastings into, one after the other.

        • So, for example, my husband and I shared a tasting glass at the first vineyard, where the tasting fee per glass was $10. So the total cost for us at that vineyard was $10 for the tasting. It would have been $20 if we each wanted to use our own glass to sample wines. 
          • Yeah, $10 total for both of us to taste 5-ish wines.
          • With no mandate to spend more.
        • The second vineyard, the tasting glass was $15 (and again we shared). The menu will list the price for each glass used
      • Each vineyard gives a different credit for the cost for the tasting glass: 
        • Some took the tasting glass fee off the cost of a bottle of wine if we purchased one at the tasting (so the first bottle of $48 wine might now be $38 at a $10/glass tasting). 
        • Some gave a percentage off the purchase of wine that day
    • The “menu” is actually a list, in order of presentation, of the wines you will be tasting. The menu included the wine names and types/dates of the grape, and often a few sentences about the grape and the expected flavors/aromas. 
      • Many of the vineyards begin the tasting with a white wine or two, then move on to their red wines (my personal favorite). I can’t drink whites without a headache, so my husband tasted those. We also heard couples turn down the whites, and skip ahead on the menu to the reds. 
    • Tasting: 
      • Expect to stand- none of the tasting rooms we visited had any form of a chair in the main tasting room.
        • Wear comfy shoes that you don’t mind standing in for a few hours on what generally seemed like hard wood or cement flooring. Only one vineyard we visited had a thickened foam carpet to soothe our feet while we stood (see the review of Fratelli Perata Wines here.)
      • You Do NOT have to be all fancy and swish the wine in your mouth and spit it out. Most places we visited were unpretentious. 
        • A small portion will be poured into the glass to taste.
          • You are welcome to drink the glass over several sips, or take a sip and then pour unwanted wine into a designated container on the counter. The server will let you know where the container is. 
          • Since we were sharing, I would take a taste, then my husband, and compare notes. We usually had enough for another taste each out of the glass. Note: THAT was PLENTY. After a couple of wine tasting rooms in one afternoon, you’ll have enough wine on board…
        • The server will often offer information about the wine, where the grapes came from, what the winemaker was trying to achieve, and other neat tidbits. They are a wealth of knowledge! 
        • Rinses?
          • The server will often pour the next wine into the glass when you are done. We were never offered a rinse of the glass between tastings. We understand you can ask for that to happen. 
    • Now What? 
      • Re-tasting:
        • When you have sampled each of their wines, the server may ask if you want to revisit/re-taste any particular wine. In general, this seems to be a chance to clarify the taste of one you may be considering. 
      • Special Tasting:
        • Our server at 2 vineyards pulled out special wines (that were not on the tasting list) and offered us a taste of those! At two vineyards, that special tasting resulting in us deciding to buy a wine. So you never know… 
      • Chance to Purchase-
        • You have the chance to buy one of the wines you tried at the tasting, often at some kind of a discount.
          • Most places we visited were not pushy about selling us wine, and merely asked if there were any wines we were interested in taking home. Only one place made the process feel commercialized (more on that in an upcoming post).
          • The bottles we were presented with ranged in price from about $30 to $50 per bottle (minus the cost of our tasting glass fee at most places). 
    • Overall Cost??
      • We visited 4 wineries, and bought 3 bottles of wine total. Winery purchases
        • We paid: 
          • $ 45 total for tastings throughout the afternoon ( again- we shared the tasting glass at each vineyard). We visited 4 wineries. So, essential, the entire cost of tastings for the afternoon was $45). 
          • If we had decided to not buy any wine, this would have been our total cost for the afternoon. 
          • None of the bottles of wine that we purchased ran us more than $35, after the discount for the wine tasting fee. So while they are not super cheap. They are very unique and special wines that taste a heck of a lot better than the cheaper alternatives. Remember- we chose to purchase these. There was NO requirement. 

I hope this helped give you a better idea of what to expect at a wine tasting. It is certainly nothing to be afraid of or worry about not fitting in. Now, go! Do! 

In upcoming posts, I’ll review the other vineyards we visited. I posted the first of review last week. Here is the Fratelli Perata Winery review (our favorite!).

Happy Travels! 


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