Three Wine Touring Tips

Uruguay-based sommelier and tour operator Ryan Hamilton gives advice on maximizing your vineyard visit.

Wine travel is booming, and oenophiles are packing their passports to hit the vineyards around the globe. Who better to ask for wine-touring tips than South African-born Ryan Hamilton? He’s the former head sommelier for Yachts of Seabourn and Playa Vik, a stunning resort in José Ignacio, Uruguay, opened by financier, hotelier and winery owner, Alex Vik. Hamilton now runs the popular tour company, The Wine Experience, in Punta del Este, Uruguay.

1. Eat a big breakfast at least two hours before your tasting. You should avoid strong -flavors; so don’t eat anything spicy or garlicky. Forego coffee if you can, and don’t smoke before your tour: That’s the worst thing you can do to your palate. Drink a lot of water between tasting wines, and don’t be shy to use a spittoon. Bring a note pad to take tasting notes, focusing on appearance, nose, palate and conclusions. Make it fun and give it a -personal score so you can remember which wines you liked best. The ideal time for wine tasting is 10 am to midday, when your palate is clean and fresh. 

2. Focus on small producers rather than big, commercial wineries. With smaller wineries, you’ll get a more intimate experience. Make sure to call ahead (or have your tour guide do so) to make sure the winemakers are expecting you. They love to talk about their wines and always have interesting stories about how they got into the business. Try to identify their passion and style behind the wine. Feel free to ask lots of questions, just don’t ask which wine is their favorite. A winemaker’s wines are like their children. Also, make sure to include at least two different-style wineries: traditional and modern.

3. Hire a driver or have a designated one. You don’t have to overdo it, but if you’re making a day of it, you’ll want to sit down to a nice lunch and learn about pairing foods with the wines you’re drinking. It just makes for a more relaxed and educational experience. And when researching a wine tour guide, check out his or her credentials, but also read testimonials from past guests. They’re great for giving you a sense of the spirit of the tour. Most importantly? Enjoy the culture, and have fun.

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