Looking to get the most from your tasting experience?
Insider tips to get the cellar doors to treat your group like royalty!
When you visit a Hunter Valley boutique winery you’re in for a real treat. We love to target small boutique cellar doors that are family owned or run by the winemaker with staff that are passionate about the region we call home and the outstanding wines produced here. A visit to the cellar door should be a fun and relaxing experience where you can learn a little more about wine but most importantly – be yourself!
That being said, while your guests are enjoying themselves and making judgements about the wine and the staff presenting it, the sommelier (a fancy word for a wine server/sales person) is making a judgement about the group as well. Not all groups receive the same tasting experience (even at the same venue) so knowing a few insider tips to “win over” your sommelier will take your wine experience to the next level. Every cellar door has a set tasting list and a “secret” list of “VIP or member’s only” wines. If you visit between June and Oct there are often new, “yet to be released” blends still in the tank that are about to be bottled that you could get a taste of, if you get on the good side of your sommelier!
I’ve seen groups that receive amazing tasting experiences that are allowed to try wines from the tank/barrel, premium vintage wines and even top shelf member’s only wines. If the cellar door has had a VIP member’s tasting group in earlier that day, they will have some of these “member’s only” wines open. The bottle can’t be resealed and isn’t fit for showing at the cellar door by the next day (the air will spoil the subtle flavours despite vacuum sealing and other fancy devices to slow the process) so they need to either take it home themselves to consume or give it out to their favourite group of the day. If you follow these tips and play your cards right, the lucky group could be you!
On the other hand, I’ve seen groups have their tasting experiences finished up early with smaller portions poured throughout. The reason? The vast majority of boutique Hunter Valley producers rely on direct sales from their cellar doors. Their output is too small for Dan Murphy’s or large bottleshop chains and while they may supply to a few small local restaurants, this isn’t enough to keep them in business. They need to make sales to survive so while the tasting experience is not a high pressure sales environment, they simply like to feel like the group appreciates their product, is interested in wine and they are in there with a chance to convince you to take home a little bottle of Hunter Valley goodness to say thank you for their time. When you think about it, you are talking about someone’s art and passion in bottle form!
Want to know what the cellar door staff are looking for in order to be treated like royalty? Want to know how to get more generous portions and perhaps access to wines off the normal tasting list? Follow these tips to take your tasting experience to the next level…..
(1) Never “shot” your tasting portion
What does slamming back your entire tasting portion in one mouthful tell your wine server? The secret body language here is that you didn’t enjoy the wine and you are slamming it down quick as you want the alcohol but not the taste. In fact you do miss out quite a bit when you do this as it does take at least 2 sips before you are ready to properly taste the wine on your 3rd sip. Your palate needs time to adjust as most wine tastings start with dry wines and end with sweeter wines. If you have just tasted a sweet wine at the last venue (or you still have remnants of your morning coffee or toothpaste in your mouth) then that first sip of dry white is going to taste particularly tart.
And try not to pull a face or openly comment “I don’t like this” or “that’s disgusting” (believe it or not, I’ve seen it happen!). You won’t like every wine you taste and it’s perfectly fine if your sommelier asks you what you thought of the wine they have just poured, to calmly say “I think that one was a bit too tart for me, can I try some sweeter wines?”. Your server will really appreciate your understanding that others may like that style (and love you for not rubbishing their product and passion) and will love that you’ve helped guide them in the right direction of what to pour for you next. Besides, you want to try wines you are likely to enjoy, right? And they want to show you wines you are likely to enjoy and maybe consider “adopting” a bottle of 😊
(2) Swirl, sniff then take 3 sips
Isn’t this just what “wine w#$nker’s” do? Actually they are doing it for a good reason. Aerating your wine (mixing your wine with air) will unlock the flavours and make it taste far better. And as mentioned above if you take 3 sips your palate will have time to adjust to the new flavour so you are truly tasting the wine on the 3rd sip.
Your sommelier will watch you do this and pick up that you know at least the basics of tasting wine. They just want to know that you appreciate their craft (or are open to appreciating it) and they will reward you with more generous tasting portions and tastings that go beyond the normal public tasting list.
(3) Ask questions
Cellar door staff love talking about their craft, their wine making processes, how they overcome the heat and sandy soil of the Hunter to produce great fruit (it’s not an ideal grape growing area as many people think) etc. so don’t be shy and ask lots of questions.
The majority of people we get on our tours are new to wine or “wine curious” but not connoisseurs so you are in good company and chances are there are others who would like to know the answer to your question as well. It makes for a super interesting wine experience and showing your sommelier that you are interested in their produce goes a long way to them showing you extra favour when it is time to pour the next portion!
Is all this wine talk a bit much for you? More of a beer drinker? You don’t have to suffer through a “wine only” tour. There are lots of options for incorporating craft beers or cider into your tour. Check out our wine and beer tours advice for suggestions as to how we can do this on a tour for you.
While Hunter Valley wine tasting tours are not high pressure sales affairs by any means, the cellar door staff just wish to communicate their message and have you genuinely consider their craft and if you send the message that you are willing to do so, they will be far more generous with what they are willing to show you and how much time they spend with our group. And believe me – it is well worth it!
Now that you’re ready to get the most from the many tasting experiences that the Hunter Valley has to offer, let us worry about the driving! Check out our wine tours of the Hunter Valley with pickups from local accommodation venues in Pokolbin, Lovedale, Rothbury, Cessnock, Broke, Maitland, Singleton and more!