Raise your hand if you love these two words: “free” and “wine!” Whether you’re a wine novice or a pro, complimentary in-store tastings are one of the best ways to get to know what you like, expand your palate and allow you to try wines that may be beyond your budget.
With travel restrictions, mask mandates and capacity limitations lifting, more people are ready to swap out their Zoom sweatpants for IRL events. And, according to the 2022 US Wine Industry Trends report, consumers are eager for elevated hospitality experiences and on-premise wine education.
There’s an array of benefits to seeking out local tastings, too. These events not only support small local wine shops and tasting rooms, but also helps consumers understand who and what they’re drinking and opens the door for them to be a part of their wine community.
We asked a wine pro and a local wine shop for tips on how wine lovers can find free in-store tastings—and why they believe these experiences help build community.
Passionate retailers almost always offer free wine tastings. Unsure how to find them? Your first step is to search the web for local independent wine shops or ask friends where they go to try out new wines.
“One of the most satisfying aspects of hosting an in-store demo was witnessing the moment a customer stepped out of their comfort zone and found their new favorite bottle,” says Regine Rousseau, CEO of Shall We Wine. “Wine quests can be expensive, so knowing where to find free samples is as valuable as knowing which region has the best budget-friendly wines.”
The more frequently you visit your local shop, the more the staff will get to know you and your tastes, which almost always leads to better bottle recommendations.
“If a customer asked me a question about a particular wine and I wasn’t sure of the answer or haven’t tried it myself, I’d crack open a bottle and share a glass with them,” says Lily Peachin, founder of Dandelion Wine Shop in Brooklyn, New York. “This not only helps put the customer at ease, but we’d learn together. After that, they almost always bought the bottle at the end.”
Get On the List
Live in or near a wine region? Subscribe to your region’s newsletter and email list. This gives you an all-access pass to all the wineries and restaurants in the area that are offering tastings.
“Signing up for your local wine shop or winery’s email list or newsletter will keep you abreast of any special events or promotions being offered, including their free weekly or monthly in-store tastings, new producers and new product launches,” says Peachin.
Tap Into Social Media
Platforms like Instagram, YouTube and TikTok have changed the way wine is offered to the world. You’ll find an abundance of wine shops, wine producers, wine writers, wine bars, wine geeks and wine influencers on social platforms who not only know all the hot new wine trends but will also share scoops about their favorite shops and tasting experiences.
Rousseau notes that “following your favorite wine influencer or winery on social is beneficial, especially if they live in your area because they will also post about free virtual or IRL tasting events.”
If there’s a particular type of wine you crave, like Barolo or Hungarian wine, follow the importer or distributor that specializes in that wine on their social channels, suggests Peachin. “Importers and distributors repost or highlight the shops they work with and often post about events they’re involved with, which means you can also visit new shops.”
Nothing says “friendly” like opening a bottle of wine to share, and so retailers that host free, on-site tasting events can become hubs for connecting with like-minded wine lovers.
“Over time, our community gained our trust and was more likely to buy wine from us since they had the opportunity to try so many other wines from our shop,” says Peachin. “This knowledge allows customers to comfortably walk in and buy a bottle of wine on their own having tried it or learned about it first at one of our weekly tastings.”
Prior to the pandemic, Rousseau’s team at Shall We Wine led wine tastings at stores and festivals every weekend, and their community grew from there.
“Spotting familiar faces and seeing repeat customers not only led me to believe that they trusted my knowledge in wine, but I was also able to witness them share their tasting experiences with each other,” says Rousseau.