Wine Tasting FAQs:
Curious about wine tasting? But at the same time a little nervous about what to expect? Most wine tasting experiences are a fun way to introduce yourself to new flavours, local stories and wine varieties you haven’t even heard of yet …. without having to “blindly” buy a bottle from the bottleshop. On a wine tasting tour of the Hunter Valley you can join others who are casual wine tasters or those who are new to wine. We like to visit cellars that are warm and welcoming that don’t bamboozle guests with wine jargon so if this if your first cellar door experience you have nothing to worry about! That being said … I’m sure you have questions so the following wine tasting FAQs are a great place to start.
Are you supposed to spit out wine at a wine tasting?
This is entirely up to you. All cellar doors provide a spittoon in the form of a ceramic vase (no, it’s not for flowers!) or a stainless steel vase/bowl or ice bucket. Many people regard “spitting” it out of their mouths as a bit unsavoury so they simply tip the unused portion of a wine they don’t like from their glass into the spittoon. If people are spitting out their tasting portion or having a small taste then tipping the rest, they are possibly driving and trying to limit their drinks (which is not really recommended as most Hunter Valley wines are around 14% alcohol by volume and tasting portions are not precisely measured so it is quite difficult to tell how much you’ve had). The best part about joining an organised wine tour is you don’t need to worry about spitting or limiting how much you consume as the driving and navigating is left to your guide and Hunter Valley expert (a much safer choice for other road users and hey? who wants to limit the fun, right?).
Is the wine in the spittoon used for “staff drinks” at the end of the day?
While cellar door staff often say this as a joke, no thankfully this is just tipped down the sink.
Is there a dress code for wine tasting in the Hunter Valley?
Some cellar doors such as Audrey Wilkinson wines require groups to be dressed in smart casual clothes. Think of the same dress code as an RSL club – no thongs, no tank tops, no ripped shirts or jeans etc. The biggest issue can come when groups wish to wear costumes in accordance with a theme whilst on tour.
This is perfectly ok (and a great way to maximise the fun on tour) and if you let us know if you plan to wear costumes, we can suggest quite a few cellar doors with a casual and relaxed environment that would be fine with this. Thankfully the majority of cellar doors are more focused on the wine than what you are wearing and the number of cellar doors that have a dress code in the Hunter Valley are in the minority.
Do you tip at a wine tasting? Do you tip winery tour guides?
While it may be customary to tip in the United States and some other countries, it is not normal nor required in Australia so you won’t be expected to do so at a Hunter Valley wine tasting. The same goes for tour guides. If you would like to tip that is completely up to you and we’ve had some lovely generous people who have tipped our guides in the past but as mentioned, it’s not a requirement. A great way to recognise awesome service or say thank you for a great time to both the cellar door staff and to tour guides is to tell the world about it on Trip Advisor. The cellar doors (and tour operators) have a lot of competition in the Hunter so often guests decide where to spend their time based on reviews so you are giving them a tip that lasts way beyond the initial monetary value when you do this.
Another great way to say thanks is to of course purchase a bottle of wine. Many cellar doors have bargains in their “cleanskins” bin or they sell “piccolos” which contain ¼ of a bottle of wine (ie. 187.5mL) so this doesn’t have to be an expensive gesture. However it makes a huge difference to the bottom line of boutique venues so whenever you can buy local and support “the little guy”!
Is wine tasting free in the Hunter Valley?
Almost all cellar doors charge a $5pp tasting fee for group presentations in the Hunter Valley. Some cellars charge $10pp and a very small number of high profile cellars charge $20pp. Thankfully most are only $5pp and they use this cover charge simply to cover the cost of the wine poured and cover the staff member’s time. When you compare it to the cost of a glass of wine at a pub, restaurant or other public venue it is far better value. 6-8 wine tasting portions (each pour is around 75mL in volume) and 45 minutes of a staff member’s time is quite a good deal! Of course treating the cellar door staff in the right way and sending the message that you are interested in buying wine rather than “being out to party” will go a long way to getting a better deal for your group. You can find lots of tips for how to do this in our post for getting more from the cellar door.
What does “redeemable upon purchase” mean?
Around half of the Hunter Valley cellar doors will refund your tasting fee in the form of subtracting the fee from the bottle price (eg. You pay the $5 tasting fee at the start of the tasting and if you purchase a bottle at the end, $5 is subtracted from the bottle price so you have essentially received your tasting for free). The rules for this are slightly different depending on the venue so you need to ask the cellar door how their policy works (eg. Some are redeemable upon “individual purchase” which means if you have a group of 3 people and 2 people purchase wine, then the 3rd person only is required to pay a tasting fee). Some cellar doors say their tasting fee is redeemable across 2 people (eg. A $10pp tasting fee that is waived if 1 out of 2 people purchase, so a group of 12 people could get their tasting for free if 6 bottles are purchased). And some cellar doors set a particular dollar amount for the group (eg. A $5pp tasting fee will apply unless the group purchases $150 worth of wine or more).
This all sounds quite complicated so the best way to simplify the process is to join a Hunter Valley tour where your tasting fees are included for a total tour price (or we only include venues that offer tasting fees that are redeemable upon purchase) such as our Hunter Valley Wine and Beer Adventure Tour. On private tours we can help you choose cellar doors that keep your tour economical and we can either pay the cellar door fees on your behalf in advance or our guide can make it super simple and help your group on the day.
These questions represent the most commonly asked when it comes to wine tasting experiences in the Hunter Valley. What I love about the Hunter is it is a beautiful area with folks that are just as beautiful of heart sharing their passion, so don’t be afraid to ask at your local cellar door when you visit – nothing is a stupid question and they are more than happy to help. And of course feel free to ask us as well before you go – we’d love to meet your group and show you an amazing time in the Hunter Valley!