How to Taste Wine for Free

Put down that glass of Franzia, Yellow Tail and Gallo.  There is never, ever, a reason to drink White Zinfadel unless you are in high school.   Life really is too short to drink that cheap, nasty wine.  That doesn’t mean wine has to be expensive  — it does have to taste good.

So how to tell if wine taste good takes a lot of trial and error, which means a lot of drinking.  BONUS!  You need to figure out not only which varietals you like, but what level of sweetness, oak, acid, tannin, etc.   The easiest and cheapest way is to go to your local wine shop and become friends with the shopkeeper.  I don’t like going to the big warehouse stores because I like the personal service I get from my small little shops in town.

Find out when they offer free tastings and go each and every week.  While at the tasting, talk to the manager or employees while your drinking the wine.  Tell them what you like and dislike about the wine.  Some of the best wines I’ve ever purchased were based upon recommendations after chatting with the manager about what I didn’t like about the wine that was being offered for free.   Don’t feel bad if you don’t purchase the wine being poured.  Generally the free tastings are free not only to you, but the store as well.  Sales reps like myself are generally the ones eating the cost of the wine in trying to lure you into buying their wine.

Wine glasses for tastingsOk, so you go to a tasting at a wine shop.  Now what?  First of all, these are very casual affairs.  You won’t find people putting on airs, but you often see people who know their shit about wine there.   Most stores will give you a small plastic cup to taste the wine.  Frankly, this is my pet peeve as I hate drinking good wine out of a plastic cup.  When I do tastings at a wine shop, I bring 40 or so glasses, real glasses to taste the wine.  It is not unheard of for customers to pull out their own tasting glass.  Here is a picture of my tasting glass that I carry with me. I personally like it because of the lack of stem which can break when lugged about.


Whether you bring your own glass or drink from the plastic one, the person will pour a small mouthful or two of wine into your cup.   First take a look at the color and while your doing that ask about the wine varietal, wine maker, area or anything else you want to know in general about the wine.  Each varietal has its own color variations which often reflect differences in taste. Don’t be shy about asking questions.   A good wine rep or store manager loves to teach.

nose in wine
This is PERFECT! Stick your nose in deep
keep the pinky down
This is wrong... and keep that pinky down!

Ok, it is swirling and smelling time. This is the often mocked part of tasting, but it so important. There is over 600 different aromas in wine. Everything from grass, berries, chocolate and even kitty litter are acceptable aromas, depending on the varietal. I prefer to swirl with the base of the glass on the table. It can be messy if you hold the stem of the glass or plastic cup in the air. After 10 seconds of some good swirls stick your nose into the glass. I mean really stick it in there are far as you can without getting it wet. Breathe deeply and note what you smell.


Now, take the cup and bring it to your mouth. You want to gently slurp the wine into your mouth so that the wine sits on your tongue for a bit.  It is ok to make bubbly noises with the wine as you bring air into your mouth to gently aerate the wine without swallowing.   Really, it is ok to make those noises.   How I do it is I make a small well on my tongue by putting my tip of tongue on my front teeth and raise the back of my tongue to the roof of my mouth; I purse my lips slightly and gently suck some air in which aerates the wine.  After you have the wine on your tongue for a while — 5 to 10 seconds is cool, particularly if it is a meaty red — you now have the choice to spit or swallow.  I’m a swallow gal.  Spitters are quitters.  However, most stores will have a spit bucket for those who’d rather. (Edit: do not Google image search spitters are quitters)

What you like or don’t like is really a matter of taste, except for White Zin. I’d suggest keeping some brief notes about what you liked about that wine along with the estate, varietal and location. After enough free tastings, you will get a sense of what you like and don’t like. For instance, I hate oaked chardonnays with a passion — no matter the location. I detest any red blend that has over 30% Merlot in it. I love classic Willamette Pinot Noirs along with their French cousins despite the differences in style. I prefer the big bold Paso Robles Cabernets versus their more elegant counterparts in Napa. Oh and I love, love, love, love a bone dry rose on a hot summer’s day– it is the essence of summer for me. Those opinions took time and a lot of drinking and experimenting. Most of that experimenting was done for free at my local wine shop. Be sure to buy a little something to show some love though.

Now that I’ve showed you how to get buzzed for free, why not show a little love for Crasstalk and buy some wine to support it? I’ve pre-tasted all the wines so I promise you they are high quality wines at great price points. Go to and remember to pop the coupon code FEEDTHEBADGER. Crasstalkers will get 10% off the wines and 10% of the proceeds will go to Bots and crew to keep this website running. No code = no discount = no support for Crasstalk.

Meat getting his drink on
Two eyebrows up! This is some good wine.

I had the pleasure of meeting our overlord Botswana Meat Commission last Wednesday where he imbibed the Martellotto Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve from Paso Robles available for purchase at Meat gave it two eyebrows up!

For detailed videos of wine tasting check out this broad. She has a ton of them about color, aromas, flavors, etc…  Feel free to email me with any wine questions at feedthebadger at gmail  or you can simply post them below.

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